I think that the new Nick Cave album deserves a little more than ‘there’s a new one out, it’s really good’. Just listened and it is. If you count the two Birthday Party albums (or swap these out for Grinderman 1 and 2) it is his twentieth studio album, over a forty-one year career. Time perhaps to take stock.
Firstly, as a singer-songwriter the company he is keeping now is surely the very first rank: Dylan, Young, Bowie, Prince, Cohen, Mitchell, Morrison, Springsteen, King. He might only sell a fraction of the records these folk did (and Cohen was hardly a radio-friendly unit shifter) but since when has that mattered? Personally, as a post-punk child, I would place his twenty albums above Cohen and King, and though very different the equal of Mitchell, Morrison and Springsteen. I am aware these are some of the Aword’s holiest sites, but hey hear me out.
Secondly, the consistency. Twenty albums in and has he made a genuinely bad album? A few tread water definitely – Henry’s Dream and Nocturama are perhaps the first that come to mind. The Lyre of Orpheus/Abbatoir Dreams is certainly divisive. Some opt for the Cave descending into self-parody view. It’s one of my favourites, top 5 definitely.
By comparison Bowie’s 20th album was Earthling, Prince’s was 3-album hot mess The Crystal Ball and Dylan’s Christian era Saved. I would contend that over a 20-album stretch there is no-one, no-one who can touch him for consistency. No 14-minute instrumental jazz funk albums (Prince’s NEWS), no Down In the Groove (a record so bad it isn’t even mentioned in worst Bob Dylan album lists) or Working On A Dream (Pirate Pete says hi) in sight. Of the list above perhaps only Morrison (20 takes us to Enlightenment) can compete on consistency, but his eighties output can hardly rival the quality of Cave’s work over the past ten years. No Cliff duets either….
This leads onto the last point: here is an artist still, after 41 years, operating at the height of his powers. No comebacks, no return to forms, just a stunning body of work. About which we can only be slightly awestruck.