Glittering twin set from revitalised godfather of gloom

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Black Pearls

Nick cave has spent THE past half-decade holding rock’n’roll in contempt, while carving an increasingly traditional plinth for himself in the marbled pantheon of singer-songwriter greats. A run of reflective albums has included some drop-dead classics, but a creeping air of Calvinism and cold porridge has dampened his electrifying muse at times. And although last year’s Nocturama marked a partial return to full-blooded form, it was recorded in a mid-tour rush and lacked focus.

But now, having opened up his songwriting to his fellow Seeds (though not recently departed mainstay Blixa Bargeld) and reunited with Nocturama producer Nick Launay, this double-CD splurge is the happy result. Unconstrained by any over-arching style, both are rich and expansive banquets of soul, folk, blues and punkoid clamour. Featuring the London Community Gospel Choir, the lineage they invoke includes Spiritualized, Tom Waits and Memphis-era Elvis. But mostly they just sound like vintage Cave?chaotic, darkly glamorous and fired by illicit passion. With a lusty peacock strut, he’s got his mojo working again.

Abattoir Blues is the heavier of the pair, born in a controlled explosion of stack-heeled soulman stomping called “Get Ready For Love”. Cave songs sometimes threaten to overwhelm their tormented narrator, but this time he rides the roaring tidal wave with a Dionysian swagger. The Lyre Of Orpheus is gentler, jazzier and spiced with a faintly Latin flavour, from the light-headed semi-calypso “Breathless”to the fierce bolero “Supernaturally”.

Anguished confessions and slavering cannibals lurk within the shadows, but Cave has rarely sounded more romantically upbeat than on strumming single “Nature Boy”, a warm-blooded comedy of seduction and intoxication. Any resemblance to Steve Harley’s “Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile)” is, of course, purely coincidental. Most chapters from Cave’s 25-year history are represented: woozy lust anthems and hellhound howls, achingly literate laments and quasi-biblical junk-blues eruptions. With this feast of fearsome rock’n’soul, Beelzebub’s favourite lounge singer has returned to reclaim his throne.