There’s a fairly compelling—I’ll go so far as to deem it “persuasive”—argument to be made that of any musician of the modern era who has sustained a long, long multi-decade career, that Nick Cave has—consistently—been the greatest “serious” rock musician of our time.
Woah, woah, woah! Wait just a minute there, buddy! Greater than Bob Dylan, the Beatles, or the Stones you say? Well, no, not necessarily, obviously that’s a pretty subjective opinion just to throw out there—although it does actually happen to be the one that I hold—but do consider that the Rolling Stones had (definitively) peaked by 1972, that the best of the Beatles’ solo work was in the rear view mirror by 1974 and that the last truly great album made by Bob Dylan was probably 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. Don’t get me wrong, I hate U2 and always have, but even I can give them credit for having had a remarkably good run of it, certainly maintaining quality in their output, some level of reinvention and a decent hit single every couple of years for four decades. Face it, the Rolling Stones couldn’t do that, so they turned themselves into the world’s greatest Rolling Stones cover band. David Bowie? He burns brightly for a good few years, that’s true, but then Let’s Dance happens. Joni Mitchell? Nope. What about Neil Young? How many Neil Young songs from the 80s, 90s, 00s or the current decade can you even name let alone hum? Prince’s post 80s output was always a mixed bag. Roger Waters hasn’t exactly embarrassed himself over the years, of course, but in terms of new music, unlike Prince, he’s not been all that prolific. The same could be said of Tom Waits.
Now, Nick Cave on the other hand, has released 16 studio albums, numerous film soundtracks, live albums and recorded many significant contributions to projects spearheaded by others. There’s also the matter of his work with the Birthday Party, novels, screenplays, films, lectures, acting and much more. He’s a prolific creator and most of his output—nearly all of it if you ask me—is really fucking good. There is simply no equivalent to Let’s Dance in Cave’s entire body of work. He’s never put out a shit album, just ones that were less good than others. Nick Cave might not sell out football stadiums or go platinum, but neither did Johnny Cash. How many middle-aged rock stars put out one of their very best songs (“Jubilee Street”) entering the fifth decade of their career? Have any? Did even Frank Sinatra do anything like that? I don’t think so.
Photo of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds by Sam Barker
What if I shifted my premise (ever so slightly) to “Nick Cave is the greatest serious rock artist of the past 30 years”? I suspect a few more of you might come on board with that revised assessment as nearly all of the competition drops off when you frame it that way. But don’t take my word for it, there’s a brand new compilation—the first in 19 years—out today via BMG, that covers 30 years of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ output. Handpicked by longtime collaborator Mick Harvey and Cave himself, there’s not a single bad track on any of the different versions of Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1984-2014) but having said that, as a longtime Nick Cave fanatic myself, going back to the first Birthday Party album, I’d have largely chosen a much different selection. Some overlap, but honestly not a lot. This is not to say that “my” version would be any “better” than theirs, naturally, only that it would be significantly different—how could they have left off “A Box for Black Paul” I wondered—but this is merely a mundane testament to the fact that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ back catalog is both vast, and brilliant. My selection would need to be spread across many more discs, I guess. Like 20 CDs or so.
Order Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1984-2014) as a standard double CD, a triple vinyl LP, a deluxe 3CD with DVD and the “Super Deluxe Limited Edition” which comes with a full-color 256-page book and inserts in special packaging. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds will be touring North America soon.
The trailer for ‘Lovely Creatures’
Some further evidence that Nick Cave is our greatest rock star:
An utterly extraordinary—and very NSFW—rendition of “Stagger Lee” from TV’s ‘Austin City Limits.’
“The Ship Song”
Cave sings “Into My Arms” as John Cale and Chrissie Hynde watch on ‘Songwriters Circle’ in 1999
“The Weeping Song” video with Blixa Bargeld
Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave in the video for “Where The Wild Roses Grow”
Pre-Bad Seeds, it’s Nick Cave & the Cavemen performing a brutal version of “Mutiny in Heaven” live at London’s Electric Ballroom in 1984. Four songs from this gig were taped for the Spanish television series ‘La Edad de Oro’
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ classic cameo appearance in Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’