Stripped of ornamentation and distraction, Cave has nowhere to hide – from the faults in his voice, from the darkness, and above all from the power of his greatest compositions.
The clarifying effect is overwhelmingly positive: it turns out all the menace of Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry came from the lyrics and the edge in his voice, not the noise of the original arrangement. Grinderman’s thin Man in the Moon gains portent from this setting.
Girl in Amber’s electronica influences still echo but the propulsive sibilance of the lyrics come to the fore. And who knew that power of The Mercy Seat could be amped up with just an acoustic piano?
Most powerful of all are the pieces taken from 1997’s The Boatman’s Call, which here gain a full-throated immediacy that always lurked in that album.
The spotlight shines on weaknesses, too. Many of his later songs – including from last year’s critically acclaimed Ghosteen – come across almost as unfinished ditties, which is quite an (unfortunate) accomplishment in such an intense setting. The occasional missed note adds to the performance, and where Cave’s voice once carried the high notes, he now labours between a croak and a howl, but all the better to channel our current anguish.
Troubled times, we hope, will find voice in great art. In Idiot Prayer, Cave delivers the first glimmerings of that art and also an artefact of these strange times.
Tickets for Idiot Prayer are available here