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.
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.