Various Artists - Dig Cave Dig (2011 LP)

Dig Cave Dig

I regret saying I’d review this album. Being such a Nick Cave fan, no other artist could really do any of his songs justice. So, baring that in mind, I tried to be considerate of these renditions – especially since all the covers are by fine Aussie acts. In fact, great bands such as The Vasco Era, The Fumes, The Dacios, Ouch My Face, Little Red, among others, pay homage to Nick Cave in this Australian tribute album: Dig Cave Dig. Recorded at Fitzroy's Bakehouse studios and engineered by Big Sky Audio's, Neil Gray, my expectations are set high –but can they match the grandfather of the alternative genre?
Why would this task be so difficult? Does Nick Cave need to be introduced?

I hope not – but just in case: With a music career that has spanned over 30 years, Nick Cave is indeed an Australian legend. He fronted Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, and more recently, Grinderman. When Cave was inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame, committee chairman Ed St John said “Nick Cave … is an Australian artist like Sidney Nolan is an Australian artist, beyond comparison, beyond genre, beyond dispute.” Need I say more?

Without Cave’s intensity and evocative deep vocals, anyone would have a hard time producing a track worthy, however opener "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" by The Vasco Era sets the bar high. Their raw, menacing version channels Cave’s dark soul, with the strength and force of Sid O’Neil’s vocals accompanying his aggressively urgent tempo through guitar riffs through which I could imagine his fingers bleeding (as I have witnessed in live sets).

The rest of the album had me on a roller-coaster ride of emotions. One would hope that maybe without Cave himself, his song writing and lyrical proficiency would be amplified in this tribute to his greatness by a line up of talented Australian bands making the songs their own. Your Animal delivers a fine version of "The Weeping Song", but the duelling female vocals at differing pitches just makes me want to listen to the original to cleanse me of the memory. Similarly, Little Red’s musically perfect "Do You Love Me?", doesn’t capture the darkness and urgency of the original nor does it reflect their own unique style.

Following on, The Hello Morning acoustic version of "Red Right Hand" leaves a lot to be desired as the loss of the percussion and organ felt like the whole soul of the song had been slaughtered. Then listening to Little Wolf & Casey Hartnett’s attempt of "Where The Wild Roses Grow" (originally performed by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds featuring Kylie Minogue) had me cringing. This acoustic rendition was ineffectual in stirring up the mystery and romance the original murder ballad so effortlessly did. Hartnett’s vocals are simply gorgeous but Little Wolf’s vocals fail on so many levels – especially disconcerting was his over-zealous Aussie twang that distracted from the track.

Questioning myself as to whether I didn’t like acoustic interpretation of songs, I was blown away by Luke Legs’s excellent Dylanesque version of "Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow". Still, maybe I preferred the hard-edged interpretations, especially when mixed with the uniqueness I hope to find crawling through the intensity of Cave’s lyrics and music. The Fumes rendition of "Into My Arms" captures the depth of the track and, as I’d wished for in the other tracks, the band makes it their own. One forgets the original and is swept away in this luscious version as one also is with The Dacios’ version of "Jennifer’s Veil" and She’s The Driver’s cover of "Depth Charge Ethel". I love Ouch My Face’s inclusion with their thrashy version of The Birthday Party’s "Junkyard". And though I still laugh at the memory of Triple R radio announcer Fee B-Squared saying someone rang to simply say “Ouch my Ears”, the screams at a perfect thrilling pitch combine with vocals in a perfect screeching melody to capture the essence of Cave.

Lastly, another stripped down version to close the album. Van Walker & Liz Stringer perform "Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?" much too softly; too sweetly. Though it tries to seem bleak, there is no sensual darkness, no lustful passion that simply derives through Cave’s lyrical control and delivery.

If this album was of originals rather than interpretations, it would have been a winner. But the comparisons are difficult to avoid especially when the bands don’t always succeed in owning the versions they’ve created. The dark undertone of Nick Cave’s multifaceted, rich work is difficult to reproduce, especially when mellowed to the point of losing the mystery and intrigue.

Review Score: 6/10