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Music / Nick Cave

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"And the mercy seat is burning
And I think my head is glowing
And in a way I'm hoping
To be done with all this weighing up of truth.
An eye for an eye
And a tooth for a tooth
And I've got nothing left to lose
And I'm not afraid to die."
— "The Mercy Seat"

Nicholas Edward Cave (born 22 September 1957) is a musician from the North East of Victoria, Australia, known primarily as a singer-songwriter but also for his work in poetry, literature, screenwriting, composition and acting.

Cave's songs range from gentle love songs to angsty songs of pain to full-on murder ballads; he wrote a whole album of the lattermost. He's also known for deeply held, though unconventional, religious views; his songs and novels are rife with Christian symbolism, though he has denied in interviews that he believes in a personal or interventionist God, and his song "Into My Arms" even specifically opens with the lyric "I don't believe in an interventionist God".

Cave started out in The Birthday Party, a rather weird Post-Punk band who would become a big influence on Goth Rock. In the middle of The '80s, he went on to found Nick Cave and the Cavemen, who fairly quickly re-named themselves to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. In later years, he would form a third band, Grinderman, which — very unusually for him — plays rather straightforward rock music.

In addition to music, Cave is also the author of the novels And the Ass Saw the Angel and The Death of Bunny Munro, as well as the scripts for The Proposition and Lawless, for which he and bandmate Warren Ellis (not that Warren Ellis) also composed the soundtracks. He has additionally acted on occasion, most notably in Wings of Desire (where he appears As Himself in concert) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (where he appears as a musician, playing the folk song "Jesse James"), which he and Ellis again scored. The film version of The Road was scored by him and Ellis.

In 2023, Cave was part of the Australian delegation to the coronation of King Charles III, marking his gradual transformation from wild young man into a notable Australian artist.

Compare Tom Waits, who has a somewhat similar style, and who is confirmed to be an influence on Cave.


with The Birthday Party

  • Door, Door (1979) only album released under The Boys Next Door name
  • Hee Haw EP (1979)
  • The Birthday Party (1980)
  • Prayers on Fire (1981)
  • Drunk on the Pope's Blood/The Agony Is the Ecstacy EP (1982) with Lydia Lunch
  • Junkyard (1982)

with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

  • From Her to Eternity (1984)
  • The Firstborn Is Dead (1985)
  • Kicking Against the Pricks (1986)
  • Your Funeral... My Trial (1986)
  • Tender Prey (1988)
  • The Good Son (1990)
  • Henry's Dream (1992)
  • Let Love In (1994)
  • Murder Ballads (1996)
  • The Boatman's Call (1997)
  • No More Shall We Part (2001)
  • Nocturama (2003)
  • Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (2004)
  • Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2008)
  • Push the Sky Away (2013)
  • Skeleton Tree (2016)
  • Ghosteen (2019)
  • Wild God (2024)

with Grinderman

  • Grinderman (2007)
  • Grinderman 2 (2010)

with Warren Ellis

  • Carnage (2021)

He provides examples of:

  • Album Title Drop: "Sugar Sugar Sugar" from Tender Prey has a Title Drop towards the end. "You better pray baby tender prey".
  • Anti-Love Song: A number of songs by both The Birthday Party and the Bad Seeds, including "Where the Wild Roses Grow," "Do You Love Me?" parts 1 and 2 and "Jack the Ripper." The love songs on The Boatman's Call are a bit too stark and minimalist to be considered "silly" love songs and would easily qualify.
    • One album of his, a recorded lecture titled: "The Secret Life of the Love Song," features him musing on how many alleged songs of love are actually songs of hate. He proceeds to illustrate a genuine love song he found among the dross of pop by playing Kylie Minogue's "Better The Devil You Know"; him, a piano, and a Stock-Aitken-Waterman pop ditty makes for a profoundly disturbing combination, since - for once - you pay attention to the lyrics.
  • Artist and the Band: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Kicking Against the Pricks takes its title from Acts 26:14
    And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking to me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
  • Ax-Crazy: From the Birthday Party there's the subject of "Hamlet (Pow Pow Pow)" who is a gun-happy sociopath bearing a crucifix. Murder Ballads by the Bad Seeds has at least six songs featuring outright homicidal maniacs. In particular Lottie from "The Curse of Milhaven" is practically rabid with psychopathic murderous rage., as well as the protagonist of "Stagger Lee", who is not only a murderous psychopath, but also a sadistic rapist who doesn't discriminate based on gender.
    • Surprisingly averted in "Jack The Ripper." In spite of its namesake, the song has nothing to do with the infamous murderer.
  • Black Widow: In "Henry Lee" the titular character runs afoul of a rather jealous one.
  • Book Ends: Let Love In ends with a reprisal of the first song "Do You Love Me?". The former song describes an abusive relationship with a woman, the latter the character's molestation as a child.
  • Call-Back: The first song on the album Murder Ballads, "Song of Joy" (About a man telling the story of how his wife and daughters were murdered by a serial killer) has two back to the previous album Let Love In. The first is the speaker using the phrase "All things move towards their end", which is a phrase used similarly in the song "Do You Love Me?". Another during his description of the murder scene, where the killer has used blood to write the words "His Red Right Hand" on the wall. This is cited as a reference to John Milton's Paradise Lost, but is also a reference to the song Red Right Hand.
  • Concept Album: Henry's Dream, Murder Ballads, Dig Lazarus Dig!!!, The Lyre of Orpheus, and Ghosteen.
  • Cover Album: Kicking Against the Pricks, which ranges from MOR pop to gospel and blues, and from famous to obscure.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The Lyre Of Orpheus. The well went down very deep/ Very deep went down the well.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Stagger Lee in "Stagger Lee" from Murder Ballads, who forces the husband of the woman he commits adultery with to give him a blowjob, then shoots him.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The cover of Ghosteen.
  • Distinct Double Album:
    • Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. The former CD was harder-edged and the latter was notably softer and more melancholy.
    • The first disc of Ghosteen is eight short songs, while its second disc is two long songs linked by a spoken word piece. The album premiere referred to the discs as respectively being "the children and their parents".
  • Duet Bonding: Led to his relationship with Polly Jean Harvey.note 
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The dark, grief-stricken album Skeleton Tree ends with the Title Track, an uplifting ballad that closes with the words "It's alright now".
  • Enfant Terrible: The Curse of Millhaven, And The Ass Saw the Angel
  • Epic Rocking: The nearly 15-minute long "O'Malley's Bar" from Murder Ballads.
    • And the 14-minute "Babe, I'm On Fire."
    • And the uncut 30-minute version of Leonard Cohen's "Tower Of Song."
    • The second disc of Ghosteen includes the Title Track (12:11) and "Hollywood" (14:12).
    • Nick Cave loves this trope, with plenty of songs ending in around the seven to nine minute mark: Saint Huck (7:22), A Box for Black Paul (9:42), Tupelo (7:18), Knockin' on Joe (7:38), The Carny (8:02), The Mercy Seat (7:19), O'Malley's Bar (14:28), Hallelujah (7:48), Oh My Lord (7:30), Babe, I'm on Fire (14:45), More News from Nowhere (7:58), Higgs Boson Blues (7:51). Plenty of tracks that breach the five and six minute mark as well.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Lottie from The Curse of Millhaven may be a serial killer, arsonist and disrespectful to the court, but she "never crucified little Biko note , that was two junior high school psychos”.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The album Murder Ballads is composed entirely of tales about killers.note 
  • Forehead of Doom
  • Genre Mashup: Combines American folk music with gothic post-punk and, later, blues-influenced rock and roll. His output in The New '10s has made a hard turn into ambient and electronic music.
  • Goth Rock: They're a tricky aversion. The Bad Seeds' music is gothic in terms of using imagery inspired by the time period of the "gothic revival" in America, due to Cave's fascination with American history, the old west and the deep south. The genre of gothic music was heavily influenced by both The Birthday Party and the Bad Seeds even though they existed before the term "goth" had any foothold as a subculture. The result is that the Bad Seeds get incorrectly attached to the gothic rock genre along with bands that identify as "goth bands" in spite of the fact they literally do play what you would call "gothic revival-influenced rock."
  • Grief Song: "A Box For Black Paul" which fans have speculated references the breakup of The Birthday Party.
    • Although not autobiographical Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere? from ''The Boatman's Call' is an extremely moving song about the death of a child.
    • Skeleton Tree transformed in the middle of recording into an entire Grief Album after Nick's teenage son Arthur died in a rock-climbing accident. Ghosteen, inspired from the beginning by the accident, is this as well.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Cave once punched a thrown pint glass, breaking it, and kept on playing without any sign of pain. Of course, that did happen at the Hacienda.
  • Iconic Outfit: Nick's suit. Notably absent in the video for "More News From Nowhere"
  • In the Style of: Most notably his rather bizarre cover of Leonard Cohen's Avalanche.
    • The Birthday Party is Nick & Friends putting their own twist on The Stooges.
  • Let's Duet: Many, including PJ Harvey, Kylie Minogue, Blixa Bargeld, Shane MacGowan and Chris Bailey. Cave also sang with Alan Vega of Suicide during a special live performance of Grinderman; at another Grinderman show, he was joined by Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Cave's multiple stints of depression and drug use came out in the form of stripped down and sorrowful piano pieces, especially on The Boatman's Call and No More Shall We Part.
  • Looks Like Cesare: Did so in the Birthday Party and early Bad Seeds.
  • Love Hurts: A frequent theme of his lyrics. He has stated that the topics of his songs are always about "Love, death or God."
  • Lyrical Dissonance
  • Magic Music: The effects of "The Lyre of Orpheus".
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Skeleton Tree simply has the band and album names in stark green text on a completely black background.
  • Money Song: "Easy Money" off of Abbatoir Blues, although he certainly doesn't sound like he's running the Ritz in it.
  • Multinational Team: The Bad Seeds have had Australian, American, Swiss, German and British personnel pass through their ranks over the years.
  • Musical Assassin: The carnage wrought in "The Lyre of Orpheus"
  • New Sound Album / Surprisingly Gentle Album: Happened several times with the Bad Seeds.
    • The Good Son was a shockingly gentle follow-up to the intense Tender Prey.
    • Then it happened again with both The Boatman's Call and No More Shall We Part following a year after the moody and dark Murder Ballads. The Boatman's Call was much better received than The Good Son, perhaps because it was less of a shock the second time to hear the Bad Seeds do an album full of sorrowful songs and Lonely Piano Piece tracks.
    • Then it happened a third time with Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!! sounding more like the rock & roll of Grinderman than anything else they'd done previously.
    • And happened again with Skeleton Tree, which is more electronic and baroque than previous albums.
    • Ghosteen maintains the style of the previous album, but more on the ambient and ethereal side.
  • Ode to Intoxication: The Birthday Party's own "Mutiny In Heaven" is a manic ode to heroin abuse. Several songs off of No More Shall We Part allude to Cave's time in detox such as "Oh My Lord".
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Lottie from "The Curse Of Millhaven" has shades of this: "All God's children, they all got to die."
  • Overly Long Gag: The last chorus of "The Mercy Seat" repeats fourteen times before getting to the punchline.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: "We Call Upon the Author" lists many of the horrible things that go on in our world, with the chorus of "We call upon the author to explain!". As God is the "author" of our reality...
  • Rape and Revenge: The subject of "Crow Jane" in Murder Ballads is a victim of this and goes out on a rampage to commit revenge on her wrongdoers.
  • Record Producer: The Bad Seeds tend to produce most of their own albums, but one producer in particular David Briggs stands out for Cave being so unhappy with how he produced Henry's Dream that the Bad Seeds recorded an entire live album featuring most of the same songs done their way just to compensate.
  • Revolving Door Band: Members have changed almost yearly, album-to-album. As of 2017 only Cave is the remaining original member of their lineup when they recorded From Her To Eternity.
  • Rhyming with Itself: "Bright Horses" rhymes "hand" with "hand".
  • Rockumentary: Two in quick succession: 20,000 Days On Earth (2014) and One More Time With Feeling (2016).
  • Scenery Dissonance: "Where the Wild Roses Grow" is a murder ballad set in a very pretty environment. The video is a nice supplement.
    • The colourful and fairy-like cover for Ghosteen contrasts sharply with the Tear Jerking lyrics.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Cave usually wears black suits.
    • His friend Henry Rollins noted in his book Get In The Van that Cave in the early 90s tended to subvert this trope by always wearing the same black suit, so that he looked cool from a distance, but when you got up close...
  • Silly Love Songs: Unsurprisingly few as most songs about love by the Bad Seeds are actually Anti Love Songs. "Love Letter" and "Babe, You Turn Me On" are a couple of the silly variety.
  • Smoking Is Cool
  • Spiritual Successor: Push the Sky Away, Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen make up a Spiritual Trilogy of albums.
  • Spoken Word in Music: His vocal delivery sometimes verges on this, especially on the song "Jesus Alone" on Skeleton Tree.
    • "Fireflies", off Ghosteen, plays the trope completely straight.
  • Something Blues:
    • Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus album.
    • The Grinderman song "No Pussy Blues".
    • Grinderman 2 has "Bellringer Blues".
    • "Higgs Boson Blues" on Push The Sky Away.
  • The Something Song:
    • "The Weeping Song," "The Ship Song," "The Train Song," "The Hammer Song," "The Witness Song."
    • The B-Side to "Loverman" is "The B-Side Song."
    • He also covered a different "Hammer Song" by Alex Harvey.
    • Ghosteen opens with "Spinning Song".
  • Soprano and Gravel: He's done duets with PJ Harvey ("Henry Lee", from Murder Ballads), Anita Lane ("I love you... Nor Do I"), and Kylie Minogue ("Where the Wild Roses Grow", from Murder Ballads).
  • Southern Gothic Satan: The song "Red Right Hand" with the Bad Seeds from their album Let Love In could be said to be one of these. This character arrives in a storm and gives people their hearts' desires, but only as the prelude to some unspecified sinister plot. Slightly averted in that whatever misfortune comes to the people that deal with him, it's probably less a karmic punishment for their own misdeeds, and more just whatever it is that The Man wants to make happen.
    On a gathering storm comes
    A tall handsome man
    In a dusty black coat with
    A red right hand

    ''You're one microscopic cog
    In his catastrophic plan
    Designed and directed
    By his red right hand''
  • Spelling Song: "Loverman", from Let Love In.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Blixa Bargeld shares lead vocals with Nick on "The Weeping Song." Conway Savage sings lead on B-side "The Willow Garden."
  • Take That!: The liner notes for Kicking Against the Pricks list the studios at which the album was recorded and mixed.
    Time and money wasted at Richmond Recorders, Melbourne.
  • Take That, Critics!: "Scum."
  • This Is a Song: "This is a weeping song, a song in which to weep."
  • Unreliable Narrator: The subject of "Song Of Joy" off of Murder Ballads.
  • Villain Song / "The Villain Sucks" Song: In "Up Jumped The Devil" the narrator literally states "he was doomed to play the villain's part" as he describes his fleeing to Mexico from justice and the devil himself. Cave also covered "Mack the Knife" for a Kurt Weill tribute album, which is a classic case of the latter trope. Then there's "Stagger Lee" which is probably one of the most brutal songs ever written.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Cave and Henry Rollins. Rollins once related how he had learned of the first Grinderman gig while in Lebanon, flown directly to California to see it, and accosted Cave and the band backstage, telling them how he'd got there and that it had better be good. Cave's response according to Rollins was: "Henry, you're a fucking psychotic."
  • Word Salad Lyrics: To varying degrees.
    • "Mama eat the pygmy, the pygmy eat the monkey, the monkey has a gift that he is sending back to you" from "Higgs Boson Blues" is a good recent example.

Alternative Title(s): Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds