Having recently curated a London festival called "Meltdown," toured as a spoken-word performer, and worked with Hal Wilner in a tribute to folk archivist Harry Smith, Cave shows some signs of wear and tear here. His baritone isn't as deep and evocative as it's been in the past, and the sparse melodies, constructed mostly of strings and piano, have become so minimalist that they nearly evaporate. There are moments that succeed in effecting the gothic intensity for which Cave is known. "Hallelujah," a song that's hardly the celebratory anthem its title might imply, and "Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow," a claustrophobic and haunted narrative about becoming paralyzed, allow Cave to kick things into high gear (relatively speaking) as he channels emotions so dark and sinister, you wonder how he manages to get out of bed in the morning. Songs such as "The Sorrowful Wife" and "Oh My Lord" also start slow, but finish in fits of fury. But dour ballads such as "Sweetheart Come" and "As I Sat Sadly by Her Side" are simply too dreary and plain, even by Cave's standards.
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