The epic reveries of Nick Cave’s newest release, No More Shall We Part, are more than just a natural progression from the raw autobiography and stripped-down instrumentation of 1997’s landmark Boatman’s Call: They’re a bold new direction for Cave and his Bad Seeds. Gone are the vehement indictments of God and woman, the unrelenting anguish, the fist perpetually shaken at heaven. In their place is the quiet of a soul at peace, although not at rest; a soul that continues to enjoy the active–sometimes settling–act of reflection while mulling over life’s lessons learned.
The album’s 12 songs progress in an episodic fashion, moving much like an opera (if William Faulkner had written opera), portraying characters as if in a play. Cave has moved back to the rich inner landscape he explored on First Born is Dead and 1992’s Henry’s Dream, and away from the unadorned honesty of Boatman’s Call. At almost 70 minutes in length and with songs averaging over five minutes, Cave is painting on a much larger canvas with No More Shall We Part. His storytelling skills are at their peak throughout, backed and embellished by the gorgeous string arrangements of longtime Cave compadres Mick Harvey and Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis. A welcome addition to the lineup, Ellis’ arching, aching violin, fully capable of matching Cave’s soul-stirring level of emotion, is the perfect accompaniment to his voice. Listen to first strains of “Hallelujah” and you’ll appreciate the spellbinding power Ellis can direct in setting the stage. Backing vocals by Canadian folkies Kate and Anna McGarrigle add a serene, fragile counterpoint both to Cave’s voice and the familiar rumble of the Bad Seeds. “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow” is the most immediate track, its tale of lost children and delicate, sparkling piano conveying both loss and a sense of wonder at the snowstorm. “Gates to the Garden” and “God is in the House” are soft spirituals, and “Oh My Lord” is a harsh lament about fate. But even the most seemingly uncomplicated of these songs are wrapped in layers of meaning that reveal themselves with repeated listening–something that is certainly no chore with these beautiful lilting melodies and fully realized arrangements.