A Bad Seed Makes Good
Though it is likely difficult to escape the all-encompassing shadow that comes with being the sideman in the gritty and gothic shade of Nick Cave, Four (Acts of Love), the newest record by multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey, cements himself as a accomplished and mature artist in his own right. Until 2009, when they parted ways, Harvey had been with Cave nearly every step of the way, providing much of the trademark uneasiness to the latter’s hallowed recordings, dating back even to the adolescent thrashings of the pre-Birthday Party outfit, The Boys Next Door. However, with his sixth solo offering and his second since his exit from the Bad Seeds, Harvey proves himself more than capable of establishing his own sound and themes.
True, Harvey still bears some of the trademarks of his work with Cave, but they are dispensed with a natural flair and confidence that feels all his own. Four (Acts of Love) is a song cycle that builds around vignette-like moments regarding the states of being in and out of love. It is a record full of intrigue and introspection, and still plays extremely compact. In fact, the fourteen songs wrap up in just over thirty-three minutes. Some tracks, like the jiving “Summertime in New York” and the brooding “Where There’s Smoke (Before)” bear the warring Siamese twin sides of the Bad Seed continuum more than the others, while the almost balladeer-like run through of Van Morrison’s “The Way Young Lovers Do” haunts in a way all its own and proves to be a standout amongst the set.
Harvey’s arrangements do more with less, sometimes only dispensing a tense and subtle organ, while other times simply chorded doubled guitars do the trick, as in “Story of Love.” This is not to say that he leans on the minimalist approach, as the lush orchestrations that color the twin suites of opener “Praise the Earth (Wheels of Amber and Gold)” and closer “Praise the Earth (An Ephemeral Play)” color the surroundings with shining colors while still maintaining a restrained and concerted cool.
Vocally, Harvey works in a more particularly singer-songwriter range for most of the record, but his delivery never comes across as boring or uninspired, as he plays with the form a little bit, injecting moments of slant-walking, sidelong glancing bravado in the aforementioned “Summertime,” or monologue-like musings on “While There’s Smoke (Bfter.)” In this way, the influence of working with the incomparable vocal delivery of Cave shows, though Harvey’s approach differs in that the changes in vocals come off as human and subtle as compared to Cave’s outright exorcisms.
And really, after thirty-some odd years of collaborating together, the little unconscious nods at play here are basically unavoidable. What’s most important in all this though is that regardless of influence or allusion, Harvey has delivered an album in Four (Acts of Love) which is as nuanced as it is compact, and overall a very enjoyable affair.