B-Sides & Rarities Part II – the long-awaited follow-up to 2005’s Mick Harvey-curated B-Sides & Rarities – has been lovingly compiled by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and comprises 27 rare and unreleased Bad Seeds tracks from 2006-2020. The collection includes the first recordings of Skeleton Tree, Girl In Amber and Bright Horses, which Cave acknowledges are “the fragile beginnings of some of [his] favourite Bad Seeds songs.”
Whether you’re obsessed with Saint Nick (guilty!) – whose every syllable bursts with poetic nuance, lyrics inciting terror to match the intensity of his band’s violent playing – or yet to bask in the exquisite sonic cinema of The Bad Seeds, the B-Sides & Rarities: Part I & II Limited Edition Deluxe 7 Vinyl Box Set (pictured above right) belongs atop every Xmas list. Here are its stand-outs.
Hey Little Firing Squad
Opener Hey Little Firing Squad, which originally appeared on 2008’s Midnight Man EP, is Cave at his swashbuckling finest: “I’m sucking on a cigarette…” – yep, we have a clear visual!: Cave nonchalantly punching a dart, wearing a beautifully tailored single-breasted black suit, wide-collared shirt unbuttoned to well beyond the breastbone, and immaculately polished black leather loafers. You’re welcome.
Hey Little Firing Squad also features Bad Seeds’ trademark ‘drunken chorus’ vocals, shimmering guitar work and oddball percussion. It’s an upbeat, exuberant number that evokes familial bliss: “I woke up early this morning/ I was covered in sleeping kids/ And I reached out for my woman/ All twisted in the sheets…”
Free To Walk (with Debbie Harry)
First of all, how did we not even realise these two living legends duetted – WTF!? A quick Google reveals Nick and Deb also recorded a couple more songs (Into The Fire and The Breaking Hands) as part of The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project, which saw a slew of artists interpreting unfinished songs by The Gun Club’s late singer-songwriter/guitarist for a pair of compilation albums: 2009’s We Are Only Riders and 2012’s The Journey Is Long. “Your door is always open and your path is free to walk…” – digesting the distinctive vocals of these two inimitable performers, sometimes singing in unison, is unadulterated bliss.
Recorded as part of the Push The Sky Away sessions and released as a stand-alone 7” single for Record Store Day (2013), the Animal X listening experience is as vivid and chilling as watching the goriest horror movie in 4D. Over ominous, overlapping strings and intensifying drums, Cave’s somewhat detached spoken-word delivery magnifies the terror: “He was a head with no heart/ He was an arm with no hand/ He was a leg with no feet…” – oh, Lordy!
Push The Sky Away (with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra)
The title track from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ 2013 album of the same name, this goosebump-inducing version of Push The Sky Away was performed during the encore of one of the life-affirming 2019 Film Music – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis shows at Hamer Hall. “I never had more fun on stage than with the MSO,” Cave has said, with Warren Ellis seconding, “…one of the best shows of my life.” Reminding us of the power of live music (“Some people say that it’s just rock’n’roll/ Oooh, but it’s gets you right down to the soul”), the arrangement commences in intimate mode – Cave accompanying himself on piano – before swelling with strings and the MSO chorus, percussion surging like gently rolling thunder. Cue much raucous hollering and enthusiastic applause.
King Sized Nick Cave Blues
Lyrics from King Sized Nick Cave Blues first appeared in one of his books, 2015’s The Sick Bag Song: a collection of Nick’s thoughts – part-tour diary – jotted down on sick bags while in transit during The Bad Seeds’ 2014 North American tour. Cave writes: “I am really pleased with the line about my c—k sticking out like a sore thumb – you can’t buy that shit! – and I like the image of pushing Elvis Presley’s belly up a hill – the Sisyphean burden of our influences.”
Life Per Se
Warning: Cave himself deemed this song “too sad” for inclusion on Skeleton Tree, the first Bad Seeds album release following the tragic death of his 15-year-old son, Arthur.
“I slide my little songs out from under you” – this line appears in Life Per Se, but was actually first penned in 2014; a couple of times, in fact, as Cave tried to find a home for it within the lyrics of various songs (some attempts are chronicled in The Sick Bag Song). In the end, a version wormed its way into Ghosteen track, Night Raid: “Sitting on the edge of the bed clicking your shoes/ I slid my little songs out from under you.”
“I slide my little songs out from under you” is also Cave’s gravestone inscription of choice (as revealed on his ace The Red Hand Files fan site).
Cave describes closing track Earthlings, previously unheard before its release as a single in September this year, as “the missing link that binds Ghosteen together. A lovely song that just got away,” which is why that funereal synth drone sounds so familiar – it was composed during Ghosteen’s 2018/2019 sessions, drawing from that album’s sonic palette.
B-Sides & Rarities: Part I & II by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, which includes 83 rare tracks and exclusive sleeve notes, is out now (…Part I available on vinyl for the first time) via BMG/Mute.
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