For Nick Cave, the road of excess truly seems to have led to the palace of wisdom. After spending years in The Birthday Partyanyone's best bet for the band most likely to be discovered dead en masse in a seedy hoteland taking The Bad Seeds through one fierce album after another, Cave has come to specialize in a hard-won spirituality, turning the struggle between the heavens above and the flesh below into an expression of the way people need God and love in order to make it through the day without dying. From the bloody depths of 1996's Murder Ballads came the following year's The Boatman's Call, which showcased the variety of religious yearning prompted by one too many nights in the gutter. The title track of Cave's 2001 album No More Shall We Part best captures the spirit of his latter-day work, couching an expression of eternal devotion in the atmosphere of a spook show, making the good things in life into a haven from its perils. Where to go from there? Back to the garden, apparently. An album overgrown with verdant imagery, the new Nocturama carries forward No More's nuptial themes, presenting marriage not as a new Eden but as an oasis in need of constant tending, an occupation rather than a chore. "It's a wonderful life," Cave sings on the opening track, "if you can find it." That's a big "if," and he pins the album on it. Mostly in the quieter mode of his past few efforts, Nocturama presents songs of faith and devotion in the face of doubt, again demonstrating his newfound gift for understatement and the smoky croon. Making good use of Warren Ellis' violin, "Bring It On" issues a challenge to the fears that divide lovers from within. Not that all the threats are so intangible, or so quiet. There's no metaphor at the center of "Dead Man In My Bed," just a corpse, and the band responds with a rave-up that wouldn't sound out of place on a Bad Seeds album of old. The punishingly intense 15-minute closing track "Baby I'm On Fire" brings all the strands together as Cave rattles through a list of those in the grips of one passion or another, including Bill Gates, Viennese vampires, García Lorca, kangaroos, and his bandmates. He seems aware all along that the fire that destroys and the fire that sustains share the same essence.