Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds are one of those artists/groups that I can always find myself getting excited about whenever something new is coming out. Although they went through a bit of a soft spot with albums like No More Shall We Part and Nocturama, they came back swinging with Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus. Heck, even their somewhat lackluster albums are still better than most of what others are putting out, and you can always count on the group for a couple tracks per album that just slap you silly with how excellent they are.
Even though the group has seemingly hit a stride that includes at least one album per year, it hasn't stopped them from dropping this massive 3CD box set compendium of B-Sides and Rarities that runs a whopping 56 tracks and over three and a half hours of music. It's one of those things that I wish every band who has a lot of good B-sides would do at some point (*cough* Radiohead), as it makes for a handy digest of music rather than having to spend the time and/or money hunting down either tons of CD singles or rare vinyl.
This set from Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds goes clear back to the beginning (1984, spanning over two decades worth of music) of the recorded output from the group (not including The Birthday Party). Generally running in chronological order, the release is an absolutely great glimpse at a group who have tried a huge variety of different sounds and pulled them off just about every time. Although I won't touch on every track (obviously, that would take awhile), there are a whole load of highlights and they're worth pointing out.
Disc one roughly spans the stretch of time from when the group formed up until their 1992 album Henry's Dream, and it's also one of the most varied in terms of sound quality and musical styles. "Rye Whiskey" is a raucous interpretation of a traditional song that sounds like it was written just for the group while "I'll Love You Till The End Of The World" is a lush, nicely-produced track that was included in Wim Wenders' film Until The End Of The World. On the other side of the production spectrum is the rather banged-out cover of Leonard Cohen's "Tower Of Song" that somehow gets by on pure chutzpah alone.
Disc two overlaps a bit in time period with the final tracks on the first disc and goes up to The Boatman's Call. It opens with a trio of quieter tracks that are atypically quiet and subdued (yet still quite strong) for the group as Cave and Shane MacGowan duet on "What A Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong before Cave covers The Pogues' "Rainy Night In Soho" before MacGowan comes back and covers Cave's "Lucy." The improvised "That's What Jazz Is To Me" is one of the weaker moments on the entire release, but at the same time is an interesting snapshot of a group just tinkering around. Cave teams up with The Dirty Three on the stunning "Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum," a hidden-track on that appeared on the TV soundtrack CD Songs In The Key Of X: Music From And Inspired By The X-Files (a track that most people oddly didn't know about).
Disc three opens with a slew of b-sides from The Boatman's Call sessions, and they're some of the best tracks in the entire set as they veer from the contemplative "Right Now I'm A-Roaming" to the swaggering strut of "Babe, I've Got You Bad." Interestingly enough, some of the b-sides from No More Shall We Part (especially the upbeat and highly-infectious "Good Good Day") are much better than the tracks included on the actual album (the same goes for the included b-sides from Nocturama,).
There's truly a lot to digest here, especially for those who have followed Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds yet haven't had the inclination to hunt down every single obscure release from the group. Although there are a couple tracks that are a bit more padding than needed (the 3-part Radio Sessions of "O'Malley's Bar," which is plenty long in its album version already), but overall this is a career compilation that's definitely worth having. Cave has been quoted as saying that it's his favorite Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds album, and perhaps it's because it's such a great document of a group of like-minded musicians playing music together and doing it well for over twenty years. They've released hundreds of songs in their lifespan, and I for one hope they don't decide to stop any time in the near future. 3CDs for just over the price of one, what's not to like?