While Nick Cave has been recording with a group under the name Grinderman, longtime Bad Seed and fellow Birthday Party cohort, Mick Harvey, has just released his fourth album (not including soundtracks). For this recording, Harvey has employed the Bad Seeds’ Thomas Wydler and James Johnston to assist him with another amalgam of cover songs and a few original tunes. His first two solo records contained reinterpretations of Serge Gainsbourg songs that were translated to English while his last album, One Man’s Treasure, followed the same formula of the new disc, Two of Diamonds.
On the current release, Mick Harvey relies heavily on cover material as he did with his previous album. Once again, he has chosen a variety of fairly obscure tracks. The interesting thing about his choice of songs is that he strays from picking obvious songs to perform. This makes his records seem much more original than if he chose to do something like a conspicuous Bob Dylan song. Instead, he tends to record unknown or virtually unknown songs that he has been a part of in his past. One example is “Slow-Motion-Movie-Star,” which was written by PJ Harvey during her Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea sessions in 2001. Mick Harvey was one of her studio musicians during the recording of that album, but this particular song was never released. Pursuing this kind of unheard track is what Mick Harvey has been inclined to do on his last two solo albums.
“Slow-Motion-Movie-Star” is actually one of the new CDs highlights. It is an acoustic lead track that includes accents of piano. The lyrics are lustful, sexy and desperate at the same time. It makes you wonder what P.J. Harvey’s version would have sounded like, especially when Mick repeats the line “I’d do anything to see you again.” Another highpoint, and perhaps the best song on Two of Diamonds is “Everything is Fixed,” which was one of the very last songs written by David McComb who fronted Australia’s The Triffids during the 1980’s. This version is a blues based acoustic song that features a marvelous ‘don’t dare fuck with me’ vibe that is up there with Nick Cave’s “Stagger Lee.” Thomas Wydler’s drumming adds an especially terrific syncopation to the track. The accompanying organ and lead guitar bits fit in perfectly too.
Elsewhere, Mick Harvey revisits “Sad Dark Eyes,” a song originally recorded by The Loved Ones in the 1960s and also a song that the Bad Seeds used to perform live in the 1980’s. This s not the first time that Harvey himslef has handled the vocals though as he did a version with Wydler’s previous band Die Haut on their album titled Headless Body In Topless Bar in 1989. There is also an intriguing version of “A Walk on the Wild Side,” not the Lou Reed song, rather an obscure Motown song that lyrically sounds like a gospel song full of religious admonishment.
Two of Diamonds is on par with 2005’s One Man’s Treasure as there are a few uninspiring songs dispersed throughout although the good songs on here are great. It is nonetheless another worthy effort from multi-instrumentalist Harvey, who plays guitar, piano and occasional drums on the record. Anyone interested in what a pivotal member of the Bad Seeds does on his own should look into this and other recordings of Harvey’s.