The bottomless voice of Nick Cave

  • 2006-11-01
  • By Elizabeth Celms

CAVERNOUS: Australia's Nick Cave is one-half Johnny Cash and one-half rock star.

RIGA - If a cave could sing, it would probably sound like Nick: deep, dank, dark. Having only heard the Australian's music for the first time last week, that's about as much commentary as I can give on Nick Cave. Yet his voice clearly inspires. The man and his music began in 1983. Intrigued by their eclectic sound, Cave joined a "post-punk super group" called the Bad Seeds, featuring former Birthday Party guitarist Mick Harvey on drums, Barry Adamson playing bass and Blixa Bargeld on guitar.

Thus began Cave's life-long obsession with lyrics questioning religion, death, love, America, and violence. His music was described as "bizarre," an "eclectic hybrid of blues, gospel and rock," and "arty post-punk." At the same time, people were in awe of his voice.

One review of Cave and the Bad Seeds' first album, "From Her to Eternity" (1984), reads: "Cave exhorts, begs, and pleads like a whiskey priest begging for forgiveness after a bender while Bargeld's guitar shrieks and wails like a congregation of devils."
Meanwhile, blues legend Johnny Walker described the musician's vocal delivery as "controlled hysteria."
Even Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue, who recorded "Where the Wild Roses Grow," a best-selling duet with Cave in 1995, had only words of praise for the artist.

"He taught me to never veer too far from who I am, but to go further, try different things, and never lose sight of myself at the core. For me, the hard part was unleashing the core of myself and being totally truthful in my music," she said after working with him.

Cave's narrative prose, carried by his deep baritone voice, soon became a musical trademark. The singer's dark lyrics linger on the themes of death and love. Yet his words are passionate, and somehow manage to stir feelings of life rather than mortality.
In 1986, after releasing the album "Your Funeral...My Trial," Cave took a two-year hiatus from recording, and struggled to overcome a heroin addiction. When he finally returned as lead vocalist in the band Tender Pray, his popularity picked up like a storm.

Over the following years, Cave appeared in several films and published two books. In 1990, Cave released "The Good Son," which is today known as his most relaxed and quiet album. Six years later, his album "Murder Ballads," literally a collection of songs about murder, became Cave's most commercially successful album to date.
Since then, the melancholy singer has become somewhat of an Australian icon.

Just last September, Cave made international entertainment headlines after he won the Venice Film Festival's Gucci prize for writing the script to "The Proposition." The honor is awarded annually to an "internationally acclaimed artist from outside cinema who has made a remarkable contribution to film."
To be sure, Cave's performance in Riga will be a unique one, sandwiched between American pop-star Pink and punk-rock pioneer Iggy Pop. But as those who've lived here know, the Baltic state does have a gray side. And if anyone can sing to that, it's Nick Cave.

Nick Cave
Nov. 20
Arena Riga, More info: