“Untie him and let him go.” These words, spoken by Jesus and noted in the Gospel of John, mark the resolution of the miraculous resurrection of Lazarus, an event that proves to the followers of Christ that they need not fear physical death.
Two thousand years and 14 albums later, we find Aussie icon Nick Cave, with his miscreant Bad Seed disciples at his side, picking up where Jesus left off and providing his own take on said miracle. It is the onset of DIG!!! LAZARUS DIG!!!, his latest, and stunningly brilliant, manifesto on the Bible, sex, drugs, literature, astronomy, the sea, and America that, in essence, conveys the point that, while passing pleasures abound in life, death may be a rather desirable outcome.
The listener dives right into Cave’s seductively rich and dark world with a thematic overture of sorts in which Larry, the modern day equivalent of Lazarus, spends the remainder of his resurrected life as a nomadic, womanising supernova. It’s a groovy, bewitching introduction (complete with organ, dizzying guitar licks that oscillate from one channel to the other, and an array of sound effects) somewhat reminiscent of The Doors that is instantly captivating.
Especially gripping on the track is the first of the album’s many masterful, poignant refrains (namely “I don’t know what it is, but there’s definitely something going on upstairs”), which humorously ties the rise and fall of the tragic hero back to a first-person account of hearing Jesus, his sisters, and others from Bethany outside of the tomb.
Given his final state before returning to the grave, Cave cannot help but wonder if, from Larry’s perspective, he should not have been brought back in the first place. While Jesus showed the faithful what the reward for their devotion would be, what life had to offer Larry upon returning from the dead remained to be seen. Apparently, there are but fleeting moments of love and significance before one’s eventual (and potentially devastating) demise. “Ah, poor Larry” indeed.
Cave is just getting started, though, as Dig!!! is overflowing with many more enthralling snippets of intelligence and musical prowess. For instance, snap your fingers in appreciation once the rolling congas of Moonland, a beat poet session in which vivid imagery is employed to describe the loneliness of unrequited love, gently fade to tranquility. Also in contrast to the harder rock tracks is the arpeggiated, industrialised triad that serves as the foundation of the haunting Night Of The Lotus Eaters, a commentary on complacency built around a portion of Homer’s Odyssey.
Meanwhile, in the magnificent Jesus Of The Moon, the inability to commit is showcased along with striking orchestration and breathy flutes as the narrator sombrely notes that “there was a chord in you that I could not find to strike” while he and his eyes wander.
It is the subject of sex (one of Cave’s favourite topics) that recurs most frequently on the album. One highlight is the rollicking Today’s Lesson, which documents the strange relationship between the naïve Janie and deviant Mr Sandman. The humour of Nick Cave is front and centre as Janie, when not boisterously declaring that she will be having “a real cool time tonight,” speaks figuratively of injustices by noting that “we are violated in our sleep.”
Meanwhile, Mr Sandman is actually doing just that, and his primitive yearnings are summarised quite neatly with “he digs her pretty knees and that she is completely naked underneath all her clothes.” Cave’s moans and yeahs, sprinkled throughout the track (and the record, for that matter) add to the wicked enticement that Dig!!! possesses in such great abundance.
Further examples include Albert Goes West, in which suicide ultimately awaits one man after he “lost his way deep in the weeping forests of Le Vulva,” and the raucous Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl), in which Cave just wants to get laid. Images of butterfly pupae and phallic dorsal fins underscore the topic of promiscuity in Midnight Man, while a menagerie of characters help present a final list of disappointments in the curtain call More News From Nowhere.
Nick Cave is a master storyteller, and DIG!!! LAZARUS DIG!!! continues his tradition of remarkable and provocative songwriting. It is a decadent, meaty opus worthy of slow digestion that emphasises the transient thrills and inevitable dissatisfaction inherent in life. While Cave’s concluding recommendation is to “dig yourself… back in that hole,” be sure to indulge yourself and pack his latest work before you do.