Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – And No More Shall We Part
Released April 2nd, 2001 on Mute Records
Produced by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with Tony Cohen
Peaked at #180 US, #15 UK
In the wake of Nick Cave’s mid-1990s commercial peak with Murder Ballads and The Boatman Calls, the Australian multigenre artist sought help for his addictions to heroin and alcohol. The resulting four-year absence was the longest break between Bad Seeds albums in the band’s history, and the album that came on the other side was a peak of his songwriting. His songwriting has had a lot of peaks in it, of course; he seems to turn a corner onto some new and darkly brilliant patch of his soul with every record, save for the misstep that was 2003’s Nocturama. He has alluded to issues with word processors and the instant gratification that is being able to delete things when you’re in a bad mood; the point is, though, that And No More Shall We Part is a peak even among a career filled with them. He relents somewhat, finally, against the oppressive force of religion; this is an album of churches, nurses, doctors, wives. There were always religious imagery on Bad Seeds records; given their well of inspiration in the American Deep South, how could there not? By 2001, though, Cave was ready to admit to a religious influence, and it gels well with the somewhat more contemplative sound and vibe that was presented here. This is not the Bad Seeds of Let Love In, whose songs were featured in horror classics and covered by Metallica. Neither is it the garage rock-influenced sexual drama of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, the band’s raucous 2008 album. This leans more on the ballads, which is something Nick Cave has always done well at. He credits a change in his focus from the Old Testament to the New; he didn’t go to church or go in much for the ritual and trappings, but his fascination with the Christian Bible suddenly had a huge influence over his work.
It is very much a recovery album as well. “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow” in particular details the harrowing nature of his treatment, with Cave calling out for his nurse in the midst of panic and pain. In a sense his recovery and his switch to the imagery of the New Testament are entwined, as is his marriage to Susie Bick in 1999 in the midst of the Bad Seeds’ hiatus. Images of marriage and wives are deeply embedded in the album and it can be seen as much of an extended love letter to his wife as it can be seen as an amalgamation of Christ imagery, sickness, and quiet despair. When I was a miscreant youth I knew about Nick Cave from Metallica’s cover of “Loverman” on Garage, Inc. My first encounters with his work outside of that was not anything off of Murder Ballads, as you might imagine, but from “As I Sat Sadly By Her Side” and “Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow”, which I straight up pirated on Napster at its peak. As far as I knew, before I sat down with a full Nick Cave album (let alone multiple albums), he was a balladeer. As such, I think I might be more inured to the direction that this album took when compared to his earlier, heavier, more intense efforts. I’ve noticed that contemporary reviewers didn’t really know what to make of the album. Robert Cherry, writing for Entertainment Weekly, gave it a C- and some snarky line about how Cave’s songs used to conjure eternity and now they just felt like one. Tellingly, Pitchfork gave it a 7.0 when it was released and then upgraded it to an 8.0 a decade later. Some people clearly love it; when Cave asks if there are any requests on 2013’s Live From KCRW, the guy shouting repeatedly for “And More Shall We Part” is pretty hard to deny (the impassioned version they deliver is top-notch, too).
In the context of what was to come, the album was something of a harbinger as well. Contemporary critics were iffy on the piano-centric, slow-tempo Bad Seeds but everything from 2013’s Push The Sky Away onward was slower, and deconstructed even further. They harrowed down the sound, stripping things until they seemed like elemental suggestions of music, the cosmic background radiation of gothic music. Mainstream critics have always been pretty slow to catch up; some of Bowie’s best albums were given middling reviews in their day, and if you believe them their genius was only revealed later. If you’re a fan of the band’s last four albums you owe And No More Shall We Part a fresh listen.