There's no doubt that Nick Cave causes great problems for Christians looking for fellow journeyman in the world of music. On the one hand he promises so much: his lyrics are laden with biblical references and gospel-style songs - many of his songs could comfortably accompany the now obligatory powerpoint presentation mid-service. On the flip side there are few artists who write with such venom and at times such foul-mouthed lyrics. The more conservative Christians tend to write him off as an ally of the enemy. Interestingly, his secular fans are equally troubled by him - they take issue with the religious tones of his music. The more conservative among them suggest his lyrics are simply ironic. Both views are decidedly flawed - neither life nor faith is ever that black and white.
His song 'The Mercy Seat' (Tender Prey, 1988) is a perfect example of the enigma that Nick Cave is. He clearly knows his Bible (he went to church as a child growing up in Australia), and he clearly knows what it is to live the rock 'n' roll lifestyle (drugs and sex also feature heavily in his music). But what a song it is - Johnny Cash did a great cover version (American III, 2000) - and those in The Salvation Army will be interested by the title. Take a look at the lyrics here... The song tells the story of a man about to be executed by the electric chair. The "Mercy Seat" refers both to the throne of God in the heavens, which the man feels he will soon visit, and to the electric chair.
The live versions of this song are far more powerful than the album version and I just love the clip below. For me, there is worship in Nick Cave's music. Worship because it is the real Nick Cave featured throughout, not some kind of pseduo-holy version but the whole Nick Cave, unadulterated, with his dark side and his demons yet to be cast out, but ultimately a man who uses his music to tell God how he feels.
Johnny Cash is a legend, that goes without saying. Whilst tracks like 'Walk the Line' and 'Ring of fire' are undisputed classics, his last two albums American IV (2002) and American V (2006, released posthumously) are for me the most moving as he reached the end of his life. Whilst the power of his voice in the later albums has faded, there is a depth that can only be detected in a man nearing his end. Tracks like 'Hurt' (the stunning cover version of the Nine Inch Nails song) have received air time but I confess to loving the apocalyptic 'The Man Comes Around'. Virtually ever line is taken from Revelation and his voice at the beginning and end of the track makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Given 5 minutes warning of an impending end to the world, I might just slip this track on, sit back and think about what's about to happen...
Someone once asked, 'why should the devil have all the best tunes?' Truth is, he doesn't. Songs for the Journey is a record of my favourite tracks that motivate, inspire and challenge faith. It's the kind of stuff you'll never hear in church but you should do, because if you listen hard enough you can hear His harmonies.