So much has happened since 1998, when Mute Records released The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — which for many years was honestly the only "desert island disc" any reasonable person would need for entertainment and solace after being left alone to die of the elements. The band have recorded six more critically acclaimed albums, for a start. Original members Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld have left. Barry Adamson, too, although he eventually came back. Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis became Cave's key co-conspirator, both here, in the short-lived rock'n'roll band Grinderman, and on six feature film scores. Nick grew a mustache, then shaved it off. And somewhere along the line, they no longer became "our" secret.
I don't know if it was getting songs placed on soundtracks like True Blood, Harry Potter and Shrek, or starring in the critically acclaimed biographical doc 20,000 Days on Earth, or that every teenage disciple seems to have grown up to work in media, or if word has simply and rightfully spread of their explosive live performances, as every concert attendee told two friends, who told two friends. But, in the past ten years especially, '80s cult group Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have gotten rather… popular. Which means there are a whole lot of people who should be excited to dive into the latest hits package, Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (1984-2014.).
The collection is available in several packages, meant to appeal to both newcomers and lifelong devotees. But it's the "super deluxe" limited-edition box set you want, with its three CDS, two-hour DVD and 256-page hardcover book. The book is an intimate and candid family photo album, three decades of the Bad Seeds at work and play. Between its pages are tucked tiny treasures — out of mine tumbled a postcard of Deanna, a strip of film negative, a nude drawing… well, I'll not spoil the surprises any further. Between the images are ten essays, although they are the real ephemera — journalists smitten with the literary prowess of Nick Cave too often trying to out-write him. Cave's own afterword puts the project in context: originally planned for release in 2015, the collection was put on hold to write the urgent post-traumatic record The Skeleton Tree. But now, "it seems the time is right to recognize and celebrate the Bad Seeds and their many achievements."
The 45 songs, presented chronologically, exhibit a somewhat expected musical maturing — from the raw piano attack of 1984's "From Her to Eternity" through to 2013's contemplative mantra "Push the Sky Away." (Most of that first greatest hits package is still here, plus all the newer favourites. Oddly, the song "Lovely Creature" is not.)
But you probably already own those songs in multiple formats, or are happy with streaming them. It's the DVD, which jumps around in time, and includes both professionally shot official concert footage and fuzzy bootleg gems, that's the prize here. It reveals the real story of their evolution into most consistently extraordinary bands on the planet. Post-punk Elvis with a rat's nest for hair becomes the sophisticated, bespoke sermonizer, his band ever-changing in lineups but never losing a beat. Nick the provocateur makes his appearances in cocky interview sound bites. (Sadly, the clip included from Lollapalooza 1994 is not the memorable one where Billy Corgan tries and fails to interview him for MTV.)
But despite how mesmerizing Nick is — or Nick with Kylie, holy has that murder ballad duet lost none of its smoulder for the ageing — Lovely Creatures truly is all about the band. It's no coincidence that the first live clip on the DVD, "Night of the Lotus Eaters" from 2008, is hand-held fan footage opening on a band, Ellis specifically, laying a foundation of dissonance, before Cave even takes the stage. From the same year, the band rips through 1998's raucous sing-along "Deanna" for a sit-down fancy dinner crowd until they are on their feet. If there any doubt, this collection proves that 30 years in, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are still not after your money or even your love. They want nothing less than your soul. (Mute)