The four gospels of Nick Cave: Let Love In, Murder Ballads, The Boatman's Call, No More Shall We Part
"This batch of reissues marks the divide," says former Bad Seed Mick Harvey. "Let Love In and Murder Ballads were the last ones where the band had a lot of input into the music.
"For The Boatman's Call and No More Shall We Part, Nick decided to take hold of the wheel. Looking back, this was the big break in how things were done."
It was a big break in more ways than one. The mid 90s saw a transformation in the public perception of Nick Cave, from gutter poet to our very own love letter laureate - with the seduction and murder of Kylie Minogue a turning point.
This third batch of double-discs in an ongoing catalogue purge is, once again, bursting with new and archival perspectives: B-sides, 5.1 surround mixes, consistently brilliant videos and an exhaustion of talking heads (carefully enigmatic frontman naturally absent).
Between the daft demise of Jangling Jack in a pool of blood and vomit and the infinite despair of The Sorrowful Wife, his obsession with the violent yearnings and inevitable miseries of the heart follows an incredibly profound and satisfying arc.
Let Love In (*****) is the definitive Bad Seeds album in sound and theme. Their gothic slaughterhouse atmosphere, equal parts horror and elegance, is epitomised in Do You Love Me? and stands its ground from the bawling bloodlust of Loverman to the tender mourning of Nobody's Baby Now.
Cave's gallows take on the human condition is also mapped out between the unknowable terror of Red Right Hand and the self- referential comedy of Lay Me Low. The spectrum is unified by a more-or-less hysterical awareness of death and the intensity of desire that entails - the respective obsessions, as it happens, of his next two albums.
Murder Ballads (*****) is the Bad Seeds' finest hour. The growing band's ridiculously broad range of feels and moods is adequately described by the chart-topping sweetness of Where The Wild Roses Grow and the X-rated explosions of entrails and profanity, Stagger Lee and O'Malley's Bar.
But the blackness of Cave's humour and the extravagance of his huge cast are just lures into his most fascinating work. Whether motivated by passion, retribution or something more ordinary, each murder is a compelling keyhole into humanity. From the chilling mystery of Song of Joy to a mad polka from the viewpoint of a 13-year-old psychopath, each act of depravity is offered for our amusement without caring a fig for our judgment.
From free-for-all graphic novel to achingly spare spiritual investigation, The Boatman's Call (**** 1/2 ) is the album from the other side of Cave's brain. Humour finds few toeholds between the sacred mysteries of Into My Arms, Brompton Oratory and There Is a Kingdom; the tenuous bliss of Lime Tree Arbour and the bitter despair of Far From Me.
This album about the illusion of divine love is remarkably hopeful, though, compared to the sprawling rejoinder of No More Shall We Part (****), in which Cave steps back from the confessional to paint a worldly mural of the anxieties and disappointments of married life.
As a bookend to Let Love In, it's a beautifully symmetrical case of creative evolution. But it's a long way from happily ever after.