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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (ANTI-)

The only negative thing about Nick Cave's latest opus of degradation and hope is the vulgar excess of punctuation in the title. Otherwise, this record is among the best in an oeuvre that is threatening to rival those of Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash for audacious mastery of the popular music form.

The title track is a masterpiece, a mutant, lurching R&B barroom rave-up. In it, the biblical Lazarus is depicted as a cosmopolitan celebrity, arms dealer and unrepentant womanizer. But "Poor Larry" can't shake the angst inherent in his forced return from the dead: "He never asked to be raised up from the tomb / No one ever actually asked him to forsake his dreams."

Cave narrates as if he were a hellfire-spitting preacher, or maybe even a musing deity. He sums up Lazarus' fate, and that of all who shuffle off this mortal coil: "But what do we really know of the dead? / and who actually cares?"

Themes of emergence and transformation continue in "Moonland": "When I came up from out of the meat locker / the city was gone." Obsessed with the need for love during dangerous times, this dark stroll of a song slithers along on fuzz-tone guitar and soulful clavinet.

Cave balances old-school romanticism, desperation, desire and the apocalypse with "Night of the Lotus Eaters," "We Call Upon the Author" and "Jesus of the Moon" before closing with "More News From Nowhere." In his view, the world is dying around us, yet he seems to urge: Long live the world.

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