Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: B-Sides and Rarities

3CD box set, Mute CDMUTEL11, released 28th March 2005

For over twenty years, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have been entertaining the intellectual listener with beautifully melodic and mood swaying pieces of music which have really defied pigeonholing, and have also been the inspiration for many a musician. His status was confirmed when Johnny Cash not only covered "The Mercy Seat" on American III: Solitary Man, but asked Cave to duet with him on a track on American IV: The Man Comes Around

Some time ago, Mick Harvey of the band had the idea to put together a B-sides compilation, but it's only been in the last few months it finally came to fruition - partially because of the recent albums taking priority, but also because it gave the band more time to pick the material they really wanted. More words from Mick Harvey about the project can be read here, and I suggest you do, particularly if you're a new fan.

So, three volumes and fifty six tracks, arranged not in strict chronological order of appearance on single, but as a rough guide each volume contains the B-sides and rarities from a particular era. With the advent of the CD single from the 1990s onwards, this has meant more B-sides rather than just the one on a 7" single as it previously was. That said, there are a lot of tracks which were released originally as vinyl only, so it's especially nice to finally have them on CD in good quality to listen to.

Without further ado, here's how it looks volume by volume - I've not listed every track here, but rather focussed on what I see as the pluses and minuses:

Volume One

Volume One has two killer tracks straight away: acoustic versions of Deanna and The Mercy Seat. Deanna even has the cheek to include bits from Oh Happy Day as part of the track, and it's seamed together really well, and The Mercy Seat feels a bit more despairing and moody than the original album release, maybe it's the piano that does it? City of Refuge completes the three from Tender Prey that got bundled as a 7" freebie with The Good Son. Then we go back to 1984 and start with obscurities like The Moon Is In The Gutter and The Six Strings That Drew Blood, early 7" B-sides that still hold their own today. Later on we get sparse cover version of Black Betty (yes, that song) with mainly drums and vocals, and despite the sparsity it actually works really well because Cave's vocal is given the room to really shine here.

The Girl At The Bottom Of The Glass sounds almost as drunken as Deanna did as its A-side, with a stirring acoustic guitar only adding to the being recorded in an echoing studio effect, intriguing but not that good. The Train Song is much more what Cave fans are accustomed to, with some really nice acoustics going on here, and a real passion as he croons "How long's the train been gone?". Blue Bird is also very lovely, with Cave adding a gentle lilting hammond organ to proceedings, not being too obtrusive and flows beautifully, if a little short. God's Hotel as a radio session version actually works, because it has that instantly recorded feel, and just adds to the immediacy for sure - as does the cover of Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song" that comes in later on, culminating in "What Can I Give You?", which lowers the tone and becomes brooding and emotional as the song develops. It reminds me for some reason of the Violent Femmes' "Good Feeling" for some reason, that sort of emotional hold.

Volume Two

Another killer starts the second volume off: Cave's duet with Shane MacGowan of the old classic "What a Wonderful World". It might have seemed an odd choice of duet at the time, but its testament that even now it holds up surprisingly well, as does the MacGowan-penned Rainy Night In Soho. Later on we get the really nice B-side of Do You Love Me?, Sail Away which has a beautiful touch of an occasional marimba by Mick Harvey, adding a softening feel to proceedings. And if you want improvisational tracks in the style of the TV series Whose Line Is It Anyway?, then look no further than That's What Jazz Is To Me, which although starting off very odd and weird actually gets even weirder later on - it's certainly interesting if not a brilliant track as Cave almost sounds a bit Eddie Izzard-esque in parts, and certainly could have been dropped for something else.

Thankfully, The Willow Garden restores the general feeling here as a stirring violin cuts in and gives the track a dark mystical feel, and although a traditional track, there's enough in the arrangement to make it sound modern yet ancient at the same time. Same goes for Knoxville Girl later on, with just an acoustic guitar and Cave on vocal to give it that slightly countrified feel to make you feel like you're in Mid-West America. But the best of all on this volume is next up: a previously unreleased version of Where The Wild Roses Grow, without Kylie Minogue on vocals! As an early effort, Blixa Bargeld stepped in and did all of what eventually became Kylie's bits, and you can tell at this early stage that the track was going to be a true Cave-penned classic. Bargeld's vocals actually add something even here, and definitely it'd have been interesting to judge the reaction of the public if Kylie didn't feature. Less violins, but more immediacy, and I'm starting to prefer this version already - if that tells you anything.

You also have a completely different version of O'Malley's Bar, the sweeping epic that dominated Murder Ballads, done in three parts plus reprise for the Mark Radcliffe radio show. Not just that either, but the lyrics are completely different from the album release so it's almost like you have a brand new track on here - of course it had to be split for radio consumption but despite that restriction it actually seems to work really well. Finally, there's for many fans the most well-known track: Red Right Hand, which is here in its six minutes of Scream 3 version, complete with a completely blinding orchestral arrangement from Barry Adamson along the way, a bit Hollywood soundtrack-esque maybe but there's still plenty of the edge the original had. Rather nice, this.

Volume Three

This volume has most of my favourite B-sides - as I particularly liked The Boatman's Call - a lot. Hence Little Empty Boar and Right Now I'm A Roaming set the tone of the slightly downward feel perfectly, with the beautiful feel really typified by the latter, hope in despair, all that sort of thing. Come Into My Sleep has a sublime xylophone which underpins the whole track to perfection while giving Cave room to flow forth with the emotional feel, and slowed down by a quite piercing piano that punctuates Black Hair ever so well. Not always so sure about Babe, I Got You Bad, but nonetheless it's still pretty good.

Opium Tea is one of two nice out takes from 1996, and why this never appeared before is a mystery to me - there's lots of great touches like the hammond organ and the piano contributing most of the melody and really giving each other lots of room to flow throughout, perfection almost. More beautiful sadness as a track can be found later on in Little Janey's Gone, with a piano and Cave giving way to some brooding violins and guitars in the chorus, with the mood of Janey going coming forth in bucket loads of emotions all the way through - Cave's vocal is in particularly fine fettle here. The cover of I Feel So Good is a bit throwaway in comparison, but it was written with a film in mind, and it almost reminds me of the Pixies' cover of Born In Chicago for some reason - not a bad thing - almost gone before it's began too.

There's more too, with Swing Low having a late night detective show feel (only way I could describe it really) and there's a powerful gentle mood set throughout - and slowed down even more with Little Ghost Song, and best of all the title track of Nocturama, where the mood is just one of beautiful melancholy, and another excellent use of an organ here to boot, just to add to the pile of excdellent tracks here. Although some of these tracks are fairly new, some are still b-sides of limited 7" singles, so well worth a listen too.


Like with every B-sides and rarities compilation CD, you're always going to get a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of quality of tracks. That said, it's testament to the high quality of music Cave and co have done over the years in that there aren't that many bad ones here at all, and listened to as a triple album, the odd bad track here and there is forgivable considering the many highlights that this box set has. If you're a complete newbie to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the "Best Of.." compilation is always a good start, but if you want to explore more, then this album just might be your next port of call. It's not that expensive for what it is, and casual fans and diehards alike will find plenty of great tracks here to enjoy again and again, which is what I'm doing right now. In short, give it a go - you'll be pleasantly surprised at how good you'll find it!

Warren's rating: 84%