Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

Ron Hart

On his 14th studio album, Australia’s crown prince of goth manifests into its unheralded king of rock.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2008-04-08
UK Release Date: 2008-03-03

Whether he was rolling around stage growling against a din of feedback with the Birthday Party in the dawn of no wave, or seated before a grand piano in a three-piece suit performing one of his timeless ballads like “The Ship Song” or “Into My Arms”, Nick Cave has proven himself over the course of his 30-year career to be one of the most prolific showmen in modern rock.

And while much of the music he’s created with his longtime post-Party combo the Bad Seeds has, in many senses, rocked -- as any fan of earlier works like From Her to Eternity and Tender Prey can attest -- the last 15 years for the most part saw Cave chasing after “the classic love song” through drama and melody, be it grandiose (1994’s Let Love In, 1996’s Murder Ballads) or stark and minimal (1997’s The Boatman’s Call, 2003’s Nocturama).

However, in the wake of fellow noisemonger-turned-troubadour Blixa Bargeld of Einstürzende Neubauten’s departure from the Bad Seeds fold as lead guitarist/architect, and with the arrival of fellow Aussie, Dirty Three violinist, and occasional Cave collaborator Warren Ellis as a full-time member of the band, Nick Cave’s sonic focus has taken a less self-serious, more freewheeling turn towards the rock end of his creative spectrum, emergent upon the 2004 release of the group’s celebrated double-album opus Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus.

But where Abattoir/Orpheus served as a bridge of sorts between the dichotomy of the old and new Bad Seeds sound, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is a bold, uninhibited coming-out party that signifies the 50-year-old Cave’s full intention of becoming the 21st century king of rock. The 11 tracks comprising the Bad Seeds’ 14th album roar with a swagger that old Cave fans might balk at, but will most indubitably find embrace from his newer contingency of admirers who prefer that Nick leave the weepy string sections and baby grand chord progressions to his film scores. Those scores he's created with Ellis -- for such contemporary Americana cinema as 2006’s The Proposition and last year’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford -- do, in fact, harbor some influence on Lazarus as well, but on an attitudinal level that's reflected in Cave’s newfound penchant for the American West. Meaning this new Nick, with his outlaw mustache and Doc Holiday-cum-Johnny Cash attire (not to mention an apparent replacement of rotgut whiskey over heroin as his poison of choice), brims with enough confidence to fill a 40 gallon hat. In essence, he is wearing his proverbial showman on his sleeve more than ever before.

“This album is very upbeat,” a cocksure Cave proclaimed in the December 2007 issue of MOJO. “I can confidently say these are 11 of the coolest, grooviest, most right-on songs you’ll ever hear… It’s an unmitigated masterpiece.”

And for the most part, it’s a boast you simply cannot argue with. In succession with Abattoir Blues and the 2007 debut of the celebrated Birthday Party-esque Bad Seeds side project Grinderman, Lazarus is an unapologetic continued divergence away from the piano toward the electric guitar as the primary songwriting tool. As a matter of fact, the piano is nowhere to be found on the record at all, having been replaced by organs and clavinets on the gear line-up. In comparison to the totality of Nick Cave’s back catalog, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is easily the most upbeat album he has ever recorded. Call it his party record of sorts.

Lyrically, there is an edge of humor and cynicism that was never this prominent before, especially on the explosive title track, which re-imagines the story of New Testament icon Lazarus, who, according to the Bible, was resurrected from death. Here, Cave nicknames him “Larry” and transplants his born-again ass to New York City circa 1977 as some kind of decadent street hustler. Elsewhere, he makes digs at God and fabled gutter laureate Charles Bukowski on “We Call Upon the Author”, and adds an actual “Sha-la-la” coda to “Today’s Lesson”, both of which are a far, far cry from the velvet poetry that draped an album like 2001’s No More Shall We Part.

But this is not to say that Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is full-on, balls-to-the-wall guitar rock throughout its near 50-minute time span. Though it's true that the guitars come front and center predominantly here (or, in Warren Ellis’s case, a Fender Mandocaster electric mandolin, or his trusty viola played like a six-string), there are mellow moments on the album as well. A couple of which, in fact, make up some of Lazarus’s strongest material, namely “Moonland”, a slow-burning groove augmented by a clavinet bridge straight out of a Fela Kuti Afrika 70 jam, and the soulful mid-tempo ballad “More News from Nowhere” that closes out the album.

These songs and their tight in-the-pocket unity are cause for salute to this latest and strongest incarnation of the Bad Seeds, rounded out by the likes of longtime Seeder Mick Harvey on acoustic guitar, percussionists Jim Scalvunos and Thomas Wylder, bassist Martyn Casey, keyboardist Conway Savage, and multi-instrumentalist James Johnston, who exceed the promise they have shown as a band on both Abattoir/Orpheus and Grinderman.

To call Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! Nick Cave’s best album yet is a matter of opinion certain to raise some protests. But for someone who has always wanted to dive into the man’s songbook headfirst but has never known where to start, it can be said that this latest work is the perfect place to begin your journey into a most enjoyable and provocative catalog and work backwards chronologically from there. Maybe when that's said and done you’ll find The Good Son or Henry’s Dream to be his singular masterpiece. But if you're one of Nick Cave’s most ardent supporters, someone who has witnessed the mad showman through the years in all of his varied guises, you would be a fool to consider this work of perfection anything less than his absolute finest.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.