It's a sad fact that the B-side, for the most part, has gone the way of the dodo. For decades it was a way for groups to let loose, get experimental or capture a fruitful period whilst giving fans a glimpse at material not meant to bother the charts. From 'The Masterplan' capturing Noel Gallagher's mid-90s golden streak to Suede's 'Sci-Fi Lullabies' bettering most of their studio albums, the B-side set has been a way for enthusiasts to truly sink their teeth into an artist. Following on from 2005’s stellar first collection - a favourite of Cave himself - Part II sees 27 rare and unreleased tracks from 2006-2020 bundled together for the first time. It's a metamorphic treat, capturing Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' ascent into the spectral plane.
While Part I captures the Bad Seeds rise from the chaotic ashes of The Birthday Party to become first-rate balladeers with a dirty streak, Part II channels the group’s evolution into more experimental and mature waters. With the majority of the songs being recorded around the ‘Push The Sky Away’ to ‘Ghosteen’ era, many of the numbers are sparse beauties, highlighting Ellis’ haunting synth work and Cave’s surreal, almost stream-of-consciousness lyrics. They’re songs of loss and love, of regret and memories and despite their often skeletal nature, heartbreakingly beautiful.
For those who prefer the swagger of old, the second half of this set may not get your pulse racing, but for those who adored this year’s ‘Carnage’ from the inseparable duo, there’s plenty to enjoy. Still, with this being a Bad Seeds - and not a solo release - there’s still some Grade A storytelling fare to be found. 'Avalance' is a forlorn masterpiece led by Cave's twinkling piano as he sings of the forgotten, deformed, and outcast. A gem that stands proudly with his finest work. 'Animal X' sees the band marry the menace of old with a new sense of experimentation, perfectly capturing the Seeds metamorphosis into the studio outfit we've seen these past three albums.
Later on, 'First Girl In Amber' sees the band sonically atomize to such a level of spooky freeform that it wouldn't be out of place on Radiohead's 'Amnesiac.' Most staggering of all when considering this innovative change in direction is, despite being the least commercial material of The Bad Seeds career, the outfit and Cave are bigger than ever. Once the critically admired darlings of old goths and literature students, The Bad Seeds now headline festivals and pack out stadiums. This strange period for the group, one filled with grief and the dismantlement of their sound, has seen them connect with more people than ever. Cave's raw honesty and relentless desire to connect with his audience have made him a beloved figure, like Tom Waits in a high collared suit.
'B-Sides & Rarities (Part II)' sees The Bad Seeds at their most daring, most direct, and most enchanting. It's a must-own for fans and well worth exploring for those who like their songwriting to seep out of the parameters.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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