The master of meshing gloom and doom with sturm und drang, Nick Cave takes delectable pleasure in doling out dire punishment. He's like the Old Testament God wreaking havoc on the world he created, packing his songs with characters whose horrible actions make redemption a struggle, if not an outright gamble, while he sneers viciously at their plight. Cave's last full-blown album with his band The Bad Seeds, 1996's chilling Murder Ballads, offered a song cycle of violent cause and effect, laced with a contempt for humanity sour enough to perhaps get some of it out of his system. His next album, 1997's The Boatman's Call, credited The Bad Seeds but mostly relegated the band to the background, sticking to spare and relatively sedate songs about as far removed from Cave's electrifying early work with The Birthday Party as they could be. No More Shall We Part reconvenes The Bad Seeds, but the disc again sounds out of place compared to most of Cave's other group efforts. As with The Boatman's Call, the mood is quiet and mostly reserved, and though Biblical themes rule the disc, his resigned but confident delivery makes it sound as if less is hanging in the balance. Or, conversely, as if his characters have no more to lose. Long, winding songs ("As I Sat Sadly By Her Side," "Hallelujah") define the disc with their lingering, haunting melodies. But while epics like "Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow," "The Sorrowful Wife," and the instant Cave classic "Oh My Lord" eventually build up steam, Cave just as often doles out simple, beautiful songs like "Love Letter," "Gates To The Garden," "We Came Along," and the oddly Bowie-esque "God Is In The House." Another welcome sign of the bright light at the end of Cave's dark tunnel is the involvement of folk sisters Kate and Anna McGarrigle, who not only counterbalance Cave's rich, dramatic baritone, but also demonstrate his continued desire to work with artists outside his usual circle of fiends. Cave has built his coffin and now he has to lie in it, but these tiny stylistic shifts bode well for his future. After all, the thought of Cave lightening up once seemed ridiculous, but now that he's toned down his intensity to such pleasant effect, it's hard not to cheer his transformation. Maybe redemption isn't so far out of reach after all.
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