No album from his vast body of work—at least the parts that I'm familiar with—strikes me as outright bad other than Nocturama. Mind you, this isn't a case of an otherwise good album following and preceding excellent releases, and suffering by comparison. 2001's No More Shall We Part is an underrated, moody album recorded after his recovery from heroin and alcohol abuse, while the double album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus would be a career highlight for any artist, so sustained is the quality level of songwriting and playing on those discs. No, Nocturama is just a bad album through and through: the lyrics are either insipid or cliched and the music is a confused mess of his older rambunctious style and the newer singer/songwriter stuff. If you're familiar with any of his albums from around this era, the entire album has the half-hearted feel of an uninspired artist going through the motions.
It's difficult to pin down exactly what went wrong, because someone not terribly familiar with his music, or someone not listening with a critical ear, would think that it was a passable if mostly unremarkable release. In other words, it's boring and forgettable. I suppose that is actually the most damning offense of Nocturama. For an artist like Nick Cave, whose albums are frequently among the best of the year every time he comes out with one, each having a unique feel and character all its own, it's the gravest sin to record something that is below average and has no personality to it. The slow ballad tracks, such as 'Still In Love' and 'Right Out Of Your Hand', sound like the microwaved leftovers and C-sides (yes, I meant to type C-sides) from No More Shall We Part, lacking all of its dramatic delivery, novel-like lyrical sketches, and superb arrangements. Meanwhile, the tougher tracks suffer from artificially induced energy and come off as a Nick Cave cover band playing their original material that was “inspired by” the artist they're covering. 'Bring It On' is an unimpeachably lame track by Cave's normal standards, the neutered sound of the instruments due either to non-sympathetic production or apathy. Worst of all, it's hard to believe that the man who kicked our asses with 'Stagger Lee' and 'O'Malley's Bar' could turn in pretenders-to-the-throne like 'Dead Man In My Bed' and 'Babe, I'm On Fire', the latter of which, at almost 15 minutes long, could be half that length and still feel like an eternal, overly repetitive, and ultimately failed attempt to give the album an epic and forceful finale.
To say that most of the lyrics on Nocturama are among Cave's weakest is an understatement. The slightness of 'There Is A Town' and the beaten-like-a-dead-horse obviousness of the metaphor of 'Rock Of Gibraltar' (his/their love is as strong as the titular rock, maaaan!) are all signs of an artist raiding the dregs of his notebook. To be fair, there are some good lines and imagery here and there, such as in 'She Passed By My Window' and 'He Wants You', but they're surrounded by lazy rhymes and cliched sentiments.
It all comes back to the fact that this is Cave's most generic and listless sounding album, lyrically and musically. Even people who like Nocturama, or merely think it's average, would be hard pressed to argue its merits over almost any of the rest of Nick Cave's albums. Assuming you were standing inside his discography, you could throw a rock forwards or backwards, at any distance, and hit something that is more worth your time and money thanNocturama.
2 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5