As the old saying goes, this book does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s got all of the great man’s lyrics from the Birthday Party all the way up to last year’s “Push the Sky Away” LP.
Cave’s lecture on “The Secret Life of The Love Song” is included and whilst this is definitely worth reading, it has been released in various forms over the years and will already be familiar to many fans. There’s also a short foreword from Will Self, a man who seems to have interesting stuff to say on any topic you give him.
Being a long-term fan of Warracknabeal’s favourite son, the interesting thing for me about the book was to observe how the impact of the words changed once they were separated from the music. Many of my favourite songs didn’t really work so well written down. They need the beauty or the bombast of the music to give them more power.
Take for example “City of Refuge” from 1988’s “Tender Prey”, the first Nick Cave album I owned and loved. On record and in concert it’s a blast in every sense of the word. When the lines “you better run, you better run, you better run to the city of refuge” are chanted over and over again like a mantra it becomes compelling and hypnotic. But taken away from the music, the lyrics don’t read like anything particularly exciting. Repetition works brilliantly in rock’n’roll, that’s why we have choruses. But in poetry, repetition can just get a bit boring.
Much of the twisted genius “Murder Ballads” album suffers in the same way. Too many “la la la la”s and “la la la lee”s make Nick a dull boy. Works great on the record though and gives the songs the olde-fashioned folk ballad feel.
But the flip side of that argument is that most of the songs that work best in the book are ones that have kind of passed me by on record. Sometimes that’s because the lyrics are not easy to make out above the beautiful din of the music (for example “Swampland” whose cries of “sinking in the mud” seems to make it a prototype version of “And the Ass Saw the Angel”)
Other times it might be just that I didn’t previously know the song (see the Dirty Three song below and some other non-album tracks from “The Proposition” soundtrack)
But then there are some songs that were already amongst my very favourites that remain remarkable pieces of poetry when removed from the music (Breathless, Christina the Astonishing, The Sorrowful Wife, The Carny, Rock of Gibraltar and of course The Mercy Seat)
Here for your listening pleasure is a specially compiled playlist of the songs that I enjoyed most on the printed page.
Previous blog posts & podcasts that feature Nick Cave: