Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Album of the Week: Nick Cave- No More Shall We Part

It's strange how I often don't notice the lyrics of a song on the first listen. As a writer, you'd think it was what primarily interested me in music, but that's not really the case. Sure, I eventually notice the lyrics on the second or third spin, but music has an ability to communicate meaning and/or narrative without having to state it explicitly.

On No More Shall We Part, Nick Cave has a way of writing songs that function as vivid short stories, most of the narrative contained in the lyrics. The rest of the 'story' is told through the music in an implicit, abstract way. And that is where this sort of album goes from merely great to excellent. There's something about the way the music clings to Cave's songs that fills in the rest of the details. 'Hallelujah' has Warren Ellis's mournful violin floating above the action, putting an image of an overcast dreary day in my head as Cave goes for a walk and tells us what he's thinking. 'God Is In The House' sounds like it was recorded in a church, Cave bellowing to the congregation about suburban hypocrisy and concepts of safety; the timbre of the piano reminds me of old, slightly out-of-tune pianos you hear in so many country churches across the country. And then there's that magic moment where he starts whispering to you as if he's right there...

No More Shall We Part is a classicist's singer/songwriter album through and through (though Cave gives his own unique impassioned spin on the whole thing). It's full of stories and scenes. No song is shorter than four minutes and the entire thing finally draws to a close 67 minutes after starting. Every time I listen to this album I feel like I should be sitting in the dark with candles lit, drinking a bottle of red wine and staring out the window. It's the style of album that people who flirt with the singer/songwriter genre make midway or late into their career where they simply record a bunch of great songs; slow, sad, majestic, introspective songs. They don't worry about whether the album is too long or too plodding or doesn't have a hit single. No More Shall We Part may be mostly slow songs, but its deliberate pace and thoughtful songwriting is the point entirely, what makes it so fantastic.

Nick Cave's career is far too varied (and mostly unfamiliar to me) to easily pigeonhole, but this is without a doubt the best of his singer/songwriter leaning albums, an exquisitely poetic collection of story-songs and song-stories. No More Shall We Part may be a tad overlong, it may drag in places and have poor pacing...but it's a classic in its own right. Pop open a bottle of wine, light some candles, and get ready to stare out the window...

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