Concept albums are synonymous with excess: For every masterwork like Tommy or Styx’s Kilroy Was Here (no, really), three bombastic epics bludgeon you into a stupor. Cases in point: The Smashing Pumpkins’ Machina/The Machines of God, the fourth side of The Wall, and the entire Jethro Tull catalog.
Brooding baritone aside, bombast isn’t a problem for Nick Cave: Thick with decadence, his oeuvre oozes caustic realism. Though a well-reviewed novelist, he never lets his narrative spinning swamp the songcraft. That’s terrific news when the concept is resurrection with a heavy meta angle: On the Bad Seeds’ 14th album, Cave tweaks the biblical back-from-the- dead story of Lazarus, unfurling a rock’n’roll fable about redemption and the pleasures of debauchery.
Feral intensity abounds. Slow-burners “Night of the Lotus Eaters” and “Moonland” sound more forged than played, with rattling percussion bolting skeletal, dubby arrangements to Cave’s sing-speak delivery. The raucous title track is its money shot, introducing Larry — a.k.a. Lazarus — as he wanders, agitated and drugaddled, from New York to San Francisco, complaining, over guitar snarl and exuberant Stooges stomp, that “he never asked to be raised up from the tomb…no one ever actually asked him to forsake his dreams.”
That’s right: In Nick Cave’s telling, Lazarus is a neurotic malcontent for whom the afterlife is a nihilistic road trip. Quite a concept.