Nick Cave Retrospective – Part 4: Loving Murderous Boatmen

I’m a Nick Cave fan who is listening to the entire back catalogue in release order during my drives to and from work so that I can better evaluate how I feel about the latest album, Ghosteen.

[INTRODUCTION POST] [PART ONE] [PART TWO] [PART THREE] [PART FOUR]

Let Love In (1994)

Until I began this project, if anyone had asked me for my favorite Bad Seeds album, I’d give my stock answer; ‘Let Love In’. Whilst I’m not sure that would still be my reply, it really is a terrific piece of work. Do You Love Me is a perfect album opener, and it was whilst listening to this song it occurred to me that it’s got all the hallmarks of some kind of trip-hop or dub track. Then I noticed a few of the other tracks on the album have those slow, repeating basslines which remain unchanged against the melodies, the percussive roll of the drums and the kind of string/organ stabs that would usually sound more at home on a Massive Attack or Mad Professor record. I thought someone else must have made that connection so I Googled it, and no, I’m claiming it as my own. Let Love In is a trip-hop album in disguise! Classic Nick, the musical chameleon.

Elsewhere on the album we range from slow, comically dark ballads to the outright noise-punk of Jangling Jack and Thirsty Dog. Loverman remains one of the best Bad Seeds tunes to date and Red Right Hand needs no introduction to anyone. The album really does stand up, 25 years later, as one of the all time greats – it’s a classic.

Standout tracks: Do You Love Me (parts 1 & 2), Loverman & Red Right Hand.

Murder Ballads (1996)

Back to where it all began. As I wrote in the introductory post, this was the first Bad Seeds record I ever bought. I won’t lie, it took me a few listens to get it. I’d never heard anything like it before, and I’ve heard little else since. Loosely a collection of old folk tales with a common theme, you guessed it; murder. The first track on the album, Song Of Joy, is almost a perfect distillation of everything great about The Bad Seeds sound. The slightly off-kilter melody, the menacing half sung, half spoken lyrics and the suitibility epic crescendo to finish. It’s an absolute treat to listen to.

It’s not a perfect album, and there are songs on here I’ve warmed to far less than others, but the jazz leanings of Crow Jayne, the sad tale of Mary Bellows in The Kindness Of Strangers and whatever deranged, dark corner of his mind Cave pulled O’Malleys Bar from never get old. I’m not a huge fan of the duets with PJ Harvey and Kylie, but there are no bad songs on here really – just some I enjoy a lot more than the rest. And let’s not forget about Stagger Motherfucking Lee. Probably the most viscaral representation of pure carnage ever committed to song.

Standout tracks: Song Of Joy, Stagger Lee & The Kindness Of Strangers.

The Boatman’s Call (1997)

Coming only a year after Nick Cave’s tribute to murderous folktale anti-heroes, The Boatman’s Call couldn’t have been more different. Easily the most accessible of the Bad Seeds work, it’s the closest the band has ever come to mainstream, I feel. A much slower, more sedate affair than any of their previous work, the album feels almost desolate and barren in comparison. But that’s not a bad thing. The music, on the whole, steps back and allows Cave’s lyrics to really shine though. Has there ever been a better opening line than, “I don’t belive in an interventionist god, but darlin’, I know you do“?

This might be the Bad Seeds masterpiece. It’s not my favorite, but it’s hard to argue against this being their best work. The album flows from one beautiful track to another, with very little disrupting that journey.

Standout tracks: Brompton Oratory & There Is A Kingdom.

Nick Cave Retrospective – Part 3: Good Dreams Live

I’m a Nick Cave fan who is listening to the entire back catalogue in release order during my drives to and from work so that I can better evaluate how I feel about the latest album, Ghosteen.

[INTRODUCTION POST] [PART ONE] [PART TWO] [PART THREE] [PART FOUR]

The Good Son (1990)

Let’s get this out of the way. This album is an absolute fucking masterpiece. Easily the finest work so far from the Bad Seeds, the album flows from one incredible tune to the next. Lush strings accompany most of the songs, with more than one of them sounding like they wouldn’t be out of place as a Bond theme. There are hints of Americana sporadically dropped through the record, the almost traditional gospel stylings of the title track to the mad preaching of The Witness Song. The Hammer Song is Nick Cave at his most harrowing finest, spitting out his lyrics with pure malice and terror. Then, completely out of the blue, comes possibly one of the finest love songs of all time. One of my all time favorite songs, not just from Nick Cave, but ever. The Ship Song is just magnificent. Live versions arguably better the studio recording (the first time I ever heard the song was on the Live At The Albert Hall CD bundled with the first Best Of compilation), but even so, this song never fails to hit hard. If Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds retired after this album, they’d have gone down as heroes even then. But they didn’t, there is much, much more to come. Outstanding in every way, if you only ever buy one Bad Seeds album, you wouldn’t go wrong with this one.

Standout tracks: The Ship Song, The Hammer Song & The Witness Song.

Henry’s Dream (1992)

Following up The Good Son was always going to be an impossible task. There was just no way of topping that record, and fortunately, it doesn’t seem like they tried. Henry’s Dream is quite a radical change in sound, once you dig a little beneath the surface. There appears to be more of a party atmosphere in the Bad Seeds camp, and the songs sound a little looser and a little more frenetic for it. I would argue that the album doesn’t really contain many long standing Bad Seeds favorites, but what we do have is a very solid collection of songs, which all fit together quite nicely. Personally, I think this is a good album, if not a great one.

Standout tracks: Brother, My Cup Is Empty & Loom Of The Land.

Live Seeds (1993)

Who doesn’t love a good live album? I was in two minds whether or not to include the Bad Seeds live recordings in this retrospective, but they’re pretty much essential listening. This is a fantastic showcase of the bands best up to this point. Absolutely terrific renditions of The Mercy Seat, The Ship Song, Tupelo, The Weeping Song are the highlights for me, but every song is worth listening to. I read that the album only came about because Nick was unsatisfied with the production on Henry’s Dream, but I never noticed any issue with that. Regardless, the recordings on this album sound fantastic. Man, I wish I could have been there.

Standout tracks: The Ship Song, The Weeping Song & Jack The Ripper.

Nick Cave Retrospective – Part 2: Tender Pricks

I’m a Nick Cave fan who is listening to the entire back catalogue in release order during my drives to and from work so that I can better evaluate how I feel about the latest album, Ghosteen.

[INTRODUCTION POST] [PART ONE] [PART TWO] [PART THREE] [PART FOUR]

Thanks to Spotify, I’ve gone and got Your Funeral… My Trial and Kicking Against The Pricks the wrong way around, but never mind…

Kicking Against The Pricks (1986)

I’m not usually a fan of covers albums, but this is pretty good. The Bad Seeds versions are on the whole so wildly different from the original recordings that it makes for very interesting listening. I’m not familiar with all of the source material, but this is a great album regardless. Diversity is here in abundance, as Cave & Co. swerve from the cheesy lounge-pop crooning of Sleeping Annaleah to the menacing intensity of Hey Joe. The real highlight though is the epic, impenetrable wall of sound rendition of the Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties.

Standout tracks: All Tomorrow’s Parties & By The Time I Get To Phoenix.

Tender Prey (1988)

The album gets off to such a strong start with a trilogy of some of the Bad Seeds finest, and doesn’t really let up with the excellent Mercy and City Of Refuge, but as you head towards the tail end of the record it does become apparent that Tender Prey is ever so slightly top heavy. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the final couple of tracks, and even Nick Cave album filler is worth listening to (although Sugar, Sugar, Sugar is entirely forgettable), but I personally feel like it just kind of drifts out without a bang, and the stronger tracks could have been a little more evenly dispersed.

Standout tracks: The Mercy Seat & Up Jumped The Devil.

Nick Cave Retrospective – Part 1: The First Three Albums

I’m a Nick Cave fan who is listening to the entire back catalogue in release order during my drives to and from work so that I can better evaluate how I feel about the latest album, Ghosteen.

[INTRODUCTION POST] [PART ONE] [PART TWO] [PART THREE] [PART FOUR]

From Her To Eternity (1984)

The first full album from the newly formed Bad Seeds carries over a lot of the more avant-garde, noisy post-punk sound from the earlier Birthday Party records, with most songs seeing a single idea or rhythm repeated over and over again. The music suffers from a slight lack of cohesion and compared against (even only slightly) later work there’s little reason, for me at least, to warrant repeated play. It’s an interesting starting point though, and the band are already beginning to carve their sound. Oh, and the end track is incredible. It evokes perfectly the feeling of a smokey, dirty jazz bar as Nick wails and mumbles his way through the epic tale of Black Paul.

Standout track: A Box For Black Paul.

The Firstborn Is Dead (1985)

What a difference a year makes! The second LP has much more well formed songs, and shows a clear evolution from the first record. Even 35 years later this stands up as some of the best work the Bad Seeds have ever produced. Truly a groundbreaking piece of work that solidified the foundation of their trademark sound for years to come. The twanging guitar, the half snarled, half spoken word lyrics are more poetry than anything else. Amazing album.

Standout tracks: Knockin’ On Joe & Wanted Man

Your Funeral… My Trial (1986)

The album brings the listener in relatively easily with the almost melancholic Sad Waters and the discordant storytelling of The Carny before the band really kick it up a gear and most of the remaining songs thunder on by with such a sense of urgency that there is barely time to pause for breath before the next low, rumbling bassline and drum roll comes crashing through the speakers. The album finisher, Long Time Man stands up alongside the very best songs the band has ever written recorded. (Update: Since writing this, I’ve learned that Long Time Man is not actually a Bad Seeds original. Regardless, it’s a fantastic version of the song!) The entire album has such a sound that it wouldn’t sound out of place as some sort of neo-Western film soundtrack, with Cave playing the black clad cowboy, roaming the wilderness. Outstanding stuff.

Standout tracks: Jack’s Shadow & Long Time Man

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – A Full Retrospective

[INTRODUCTION POST] [PART ONE] [PART TWO] [PART THREE] [PART FOUR]

I’ve been a fan of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds for a long time. It started in 1996 with Murder Ballards, an album I bought through a simple misunderstanding.

As a huge fan of the UK 80s goth scene, I’d been listening to bands like Sisters Of Mercy, Fields Of The Nephilim and The Mission for years, and when I saw an article which described Nick Cave as ‘the gothic prince’ I immediately went out and bought the latest album.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that The Bad Seeds sounded precisely nothing whatsoever like the bands I’d been listening to. That initial disappointment, however, soon gave way to something else. The album was fantastic. A real mix of blues, poetic storytelling and almost funeral dirge. Listening to Stagger Lee on repeat I soon declared myself a fan.

Years went by and I’d pick up the latest albums, some of them were great and some I never really gave a chance. See, I’d never really have described myself as a ‘hardcore’ fan. I’ve not travelled the world to see him play, and there are albums in this sizeable back catalogue that I’ve honestly only ever listened to once. There are some I’ve never even listened to all the way through, especially the older stuff.

I’ve seen Nick Cave play live once. My 29th birthday, in a tiny venue in Birmingham, UK. It was a tremendously powerful performance, Cave owns any stage he ventures on to, and the energy coming from him is electric. He’s a true performer.

Now, you may or may not be aware that last week Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their 17th full length studio album, Ghosteen. It’s been released to almost universal critical praise in the music press, but fan reaction has been mixed to say the least. Personally, I thought it was a good album, but it wasn’t the album I was hoping for.

Then I got to thinking – how does this album fit within the entire body of work. Then I got to thinking about all those albums I’d forgotten about, or never gave a fair chance. Hmmm. I’ve got an idea.

I currently have a commute of around an hour. That’s two hours every day I have completely to myself. What if I listened to the entire Bad Seeds back catalogue, in order, over the next few weeks? One album on the way to work, and then again on the way back. There are a few reasons for listening to each album at least twice. Firstly, the times of day and my mood whilst listening will be totally different for the two journeys, and it’ll also give the album a real chance of sinking in properly. Then, and only then, could I give Ghosteen a fair reappraisal.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve done the first couple of albums already, and it’s been very interesting. I’ll be posting updates along the way, and it would be amazing if anyone has any thoughts or comments on the albums as they’re posted.

Watch this space!

A Study In Emerald by Neil Gaiman

A Study In Emerald by Neil Gaiman, Dark Horse 2018.

This comic book retelling of a short story originally published in 2003 is one that I have been looking forward to ever since it was announced a while back. Adapted from Gaiman’s original prose by Rafael Scavone and expertly drawn by Rafael Albuquerque, the presentation of this volume never falls short of astounding.

The story regards two men – one an injured in battle military veteren, and the other a brilliant detective – attempting to solve the most gruesome of murders. And that’s where I’ll leave the plot, because, you know, spoilers. The writing is excellent throughout, although I would expect nothing less from anything stemming from one of Gaiman’s stories, and the artwork is exemplary.

But the story… It has so much potential, and whilst it is fascinating to watch the detective explain his thought process, there is not nearly enough of it. As a reader – and a huge fan of Neil Gaiman – I was left disappointed, cold and frustrated by the story’s anti-climax. This felt like the first part of a much larger work, except it isn’t. This is the beginning, middle and end, and I wanted more. At a mere 80 pages or so, perhaps I was a little foolish in expecting one of the grand tales that are Gaiman’s bread and butter, but that I did.

Ultimately, this is an interesting short story, but nothing more. It draws upon Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, but never really goes anywhere with it. This is a hard one to recommend, although I do – with reservations. It’s one for the fans who need everything with Neil’s name on it, but a casual comic book fan will probably be left feeling a little cheated.

Neil Gaiman – A Study In Emerald – 2.5 Stars

Robin, Robin and Robin…

Robin. Batman’s sidekick. Always just a hired help, someone to back him up in a fix, but never really all that important to the story. And no one even really likes Robin that much, do they? Well I decided it was time to do a little background reading on one of the best known supporting characters in comic history.

Ever since I watched repeats of the campy 60s TV show as a kid, I’ve known that Dick Grayson was Robin. As I grew up and started reading comics, Dick Grayson was still, and would always be, Robin. Now imagine my tiny mind blowing when I discovered that actually, he wouldn’t. As we all know, Grayson eventually went on to forge his own path as Nightwing, and Nightwing was great. But there have been other Robin’s…

Over the last 25 years or so, I’ve read many comics where we have seen Robin’s boots filled by other people. I’ve read lots of these stories out of context, and just accepted that Jason Todd was Robin. Or Tim Drake. Or Damian Wayne. But recently I suddenly realised that despite all these different people playing Robin, I’d never actually read the specific stories that saw them take on the cape and boots, or the events surrounding them.

I decided to rectify that.

I did a little bit of online research, asked around a couple of forums (I can highly recommend the Comic Vine forums if you ever want to know anything about any comic, ever. Ever), and curated myself a reading list consisting of the stories which concern the employment and subsequent termination of every major Robin. That is to say, Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne.

Some of the books in this reading list are not entirely essential to anyone just wanting to stick strictly to Robin’s stories, but they do serve well as set-ups to the next book in the list, or they are just great stories that feature Robin quite heavily. Don’t worry, I will not be posting any spoilers for these books, other than how Robin fits in to the story. So, the list then…

1. Batman: Year One

This isn’t a Robin story at all. In fact, he’s not even in it, but Frank Miller’s Batman origin story is widely regarded as one of the most important, and critically acclaimed comic books of all time, and serves as a good introduction to Batman and some of the other characters we will find in the rest of this list.

2. Batman: The Long Halloween

Again, this isn’t a Robin story, but it is an excellent one, and leads directly in to…

 3. Batman: Dark Victory

A sequel to The Long Halloween, and the first time we are introduced to a young Dick Grayson.

4. Robin: Year One

Dick’s first year as Robin. You could have probably worked that one out yourself. Written by long time Batman writer, Chuck Dixon, I really enjoyed this book.

5. Batgirl: Year One

Yes this is a Batgirl title, but she rarely flies alone, and her origin story is as much a continuation of Robin’s Year One as anything else.

6. The Teen Titans: Judas Contract

The Teen Titans, Robin’s side project if you like, is not a series I’ve ever read outside of this book, but it’s a good story and also covers Dick’s transition in to Nightwing.

7. Nightwing: Year One

Some of this story contradicts the book above a little, but it’s a good introduction to Nightwing, and also introduces us to Jason Todd – soon to be Robin!

8. Batman: Second Chances

When Batman catches small time crook, Jason Todd, trying to steal the tyres off the Batmobile, he takes pity on him and decides to correct his ways.

It’s actually not that great a book. A selection of stories, it’s jumps around time rather awkwardly – the first story is about an imposter Batman, and features Jason as Robin. It’s not until second story, where we see Dick back as Robin again that we then see Jason’s origin. I’m not a fan of the artwork, and the writing is very early 80’s comic book style, although it does feature the line, ‘Like a wino’s teeth, Park Row decayed in to something foul…’, so it kind of gets a pass for that.

9. The Killing Joke

Not really a Robin story, but Alan Moore’s incredible work introduces Joker, who plays a rather important role in…

10. Batman: Death In The Family

Where Jason Todd, erm, retires from the role of Robin.

11. Batman: A Lonely Place Of Dying 

An unknown boy has been tracking Batman, following his work, piecing together the clues, and when he finally makes contact works his ass off to prove to the bat that he needs to take on another Robin following the departure of Jason Todd.

NOTE: The new edition of Death In The Family also contains the Lonely Place Of Dying story arc. I have the original 80s version, which doesn’t, but it you are purchasing books, be sure to check which version your getting otherwise you could accidentally double dip!

12. Batman: Knightfall Trilogy

Another story which isn’t really about Robin, but one of the all time great Batman stories, which sees Bats face off against his strongest foe yet – Bane. There are three parts to this story, Knightfall parts one and two, and the conclusion, Knightsend, which sees a returning Dick Grayson play an important role…

13. Batman & Son

The introduction of the son Batman never knew he had, and the next Robin.

14. Batman Inc: Vol 2

…and then his exit from the series.

So there you have it. A by no means exhaustive list, and there are hundreds of stories between the gaps that are well worthy of your attention, but the books above cover the transitions of every major Robin. There have been others, briefly (I haven’t even mentioned Stephanie Brown, Duke Thomas or the We Are Robin movement), but this is just a list I made for myself that I thought someone might be interested in.

Let me know in the comments if you found it any use!

 

Red Team by Garth Ennis

Red Team by Garth Ennis, Dynamite Entertainment 2013.

I have had Garth Ennis’ Red Team sat on my shelf pretty much since the week it was released in trade paperback format several years ago. Today I learned that Mr Ennis has written a follow up to this mini-series, so I thought now was as good a time as any to finally get the thing read! 

I don’t know why I’ve put it off for so long. I’m a big fan of Garth’s work. His incredible work on Preacher was one of a couple of series that reignited my love for comics after a few years out of the scene. What I’ve read so far of The Boys has been exceptional, and in Crossed he managed to take the already now tiresome theme of a zombie apocalypse and managed create a world which was downright terrifying rather than one you’d actually be secretly quite excited to be thrown in to. What I’m saying is I do really enjoy his comics, so quite why it’s taken me so long to read Red Team is a mystery. Well, now I have, and I’m pleased to report it stands alongside his other work as a series definitely worthy of your attention.

I will not spoil the plot here, but loosely speaking the story is framed by the interrogation of the titular Red Team, a police major crimes unit who decide to do the unthinkable. They murder a suspect. As the story unfolds (mostly via flashbacks) expect plenty of twists and revelations – there were several ‘Aaaah!’ and ‘Ooooh!’ moments that kept me guessing until its satisfying conclusion.

The artwork, handled by Craig Cermak, is never less than exemplary, and the writing is classic Ennis. The easily offended should look away, but then again, the easily offended probably aren’t picking up a Garth Ennis book. Overall, I highly recommend this to any comic book fans, but especially those with an interest in crime fiction.

Garth Ennis – Red Team – 4 stars

 

 

MCU Marathon: Update #1

So, following on from my post about watching the entire MCU library, I have now watched Iron Man (5 stars) and The Incredible Hulk (4 stars).

Both movies looked great, being played as they were from Bluray disc, and I actually enjoyed them more than I thought I would. Despite being a huge comic fan, I’ve always been more DC than Marvel, and as such don’t really have any sense of nostalgia or attachment to these characters. Both Tony Stark and Bruce Banner seemed pretty well rounded protagonists though, and not nearly as one dimensional as you might assume.

I do feel that both films relied pretty heavily on the same formula though, which is: man gets powers, baddie gets similar-but-stronger powers, goodie beats baddie. It is a mild concern at this point that this format will feature very heavily throughout the rest of these films, but we’ll see.

As for Iron Man and Hulk, well the films piqued my interest enough for me to go and seek out some recommended reading for each of them. I’ve got Hulk Grey and Iron Man Extremis to get through, so I’ll let you know how that goes!

Stay tuned!

Iron Man – 5 Stars

The Incredible Hulk – 4 Stars

 

 

 

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PlayStation 4) – Naughty Dog, 2017.

Full disclosure, I am a huge Uncharted apologist. Sure, I can see the flaws, and I listen to the arguments, but I just adore this series. The characters, the worlds, the exploring, the shooting, I love it all – and this, this just might be the series finest hour. Probably the biggest credit I can give this game is that not once in its eight hour roller-coaster ride did I catch myself wishing Drake was on the scene. The chemistry between Chloe and Nadine is perfect for the screen, and the short running time of the game means there wasn’t a wasted second or slow point anywhere to be found.

Structurally, it sticks pretty close to the tried and tested formula, although it does give you a huge open world to play around in at around a third of the way through. I spent around three hours on this section alone, finding all the tokens and treasures. If Naughty Dog had given us nothing but this section as DLC, they’d have still got away with it. As it is, that open world is just a small part of probably the tightest, most action packed Uncharted release yet. The set pieces are incredible. We’ve seen Drake run atop speeding trains before, but this time was more bombastic, more adrenaline fuelled and more fun than any other. The story was as good as any other we’ve seen in the series yet (and make of that what you will), the climbing even more refined and smooth than in U4, and the puzzles didn’t once feel like they broke up the flow of the game.

All in all, Naughty Dog have done an incredible job of showing that there is life after Drake for Uncharted, and I for one cannot wait to see what they do next. If we get a shorter, more action packed adventure like this every couple of years, I’m all in.

Brilliant.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy – 5 Stars