Aug 032012

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work.  View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Just over three decades since The Birthday Party helped spark off the doom & gloom sub-stream in ‘80s post-punk, Nick Cave now belongs in the great club of certified songwriters.  Like several members of that club, Cave has his share of skeptics, and it’s not so easy to bring them into the fold.  Nonbelievers in latter-day Nick Cave would benefit from checking out the Birthday Party, or Cave’s earlier albums with The Bad Seeds, to better appreciate one of the most prolific and consistent musicians to rise from the ashes of the punk era.

Luckily, despite his rock-solid cool credentials, Cave has never shied away from the dubious business of covering well-known songs.  He doesn’t necessarily go the obscure route, and he doesn’t semi-commit under the guise of irony. Light a creepy candle and check out these five tracks.

Nick Cave – In The Ghetto (Mac Davis cover)

Nick Cave singing “In The Ghetto” feels a bit wrong. Well, Elvis Presley singing “In The Ghetto” feels a bit wrong. Maybe in Nick’s case it’s being uncertain of his motives. In interviews he’s addressed the issue and asserted that his intention is, in fact, to honor a period of The King’s career that he feels is vastly underrated and misunderstood. The unrelenting cool of the music video doesn’t help to settle any reservations.  But man, what a cool video.

Nick Cave – Wanted Man (Bob Dylan cover)

Only one album removed from the Birthday Party, Cave’s 1985 release The Firstborn is Dead showed him spreading his raven wings ever wider, drawing power from rural blues and turning it on Bob Dylan’s “Wanted Man.” Made famous by Johnny Cash (who likely could have sung the words “wanted man” a hundred times in a row to great effect), “Wanted Man” is wrangled, skinned, and mangled to fit Cave’s own bloody, barren vision. Cave injects some grim hostility to the character to help his rendition come to life – whereas Dylan’s wanted man “went the wrong way into Juarez with Juanita on [his] lap,” Cave’s wanted man has a gun leveled at your head.

Nick Cave – Loose (The Stooges cover)

Drunk On The Pope’s Blood is a bootleg of a 1981 London performance from The Birthday Party. Buzzsaw guitar opens this harrowing version of the Stooges classic, as Cave makes some guttural moans before the rest of the band kicks in with a bludgeoning rhythm that updates the abrasiveness that Iggy Pop & Company assaulted listeners with in 1970.

Nick Cave – Rainy Night In Soho (The Pogues cover)

Here we get a taste of Nick Cave’s ability to pull off a good old ballad. A good olde ballade, really. It’s easy to forget that he’s gone into similar territory with his own material (“The Ship Song,” for example). What can really be said here? You have Jools Holland sitting in on piano, Cave doing a hell of a job carrying the sentimental vocal, and Shane MacGowan perched on a stool, smoking a cigarette and wearing sunglasses with great virtuosity.

Nick Cave – Death Is Not The End (Bob Dylan cover)

A fitting coda to the album Murder Ballads, “Death Is Not The End” is another choice Bob Dylan cover from Cave. PJ Harvey, Kylie Minogue, and Shane MacGowan share in a “We Are The World”-style round-robin of verses from one of the better tracks off of Dylan’s Down In The Groove. The mild humor in the recording, with a whiff of brimstone, closes out a ten-track kaleidoscope of psychopathic rampage, gore, and perversity.

Get all your Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds info from their official site.

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