When Nick Cave enters his home office and puts quill to parchment, the lyrics that bleed from its tip onto the page can range from those of a dark and grisly murder ballad to an epic Biblical allegory, rife with wit and layers of meaning. But Cave also has a well-tuned ear for the romantic; at one time it might have seemed peculiar to hear the singer behind “6-inch Gold Blade” trading his venom and violence for something more intimate and sincere, but 1997’s The Boatman’s Call should have put those doubts to rest — as would have 2003’s Nocturama.
Nocturama’s leadoff track, “Wonderful Life,” takes that level of intimacy up a notch by allowing some of the minor cracks in love’s facade — and the obstacles in its way — to become more visible. For while Cave can spin a poignant and devastating song of yearning or passion, he presents them in a way that goes much deeper than boy-meets-girl.
“A great love song should have, somewhere, an ache in it,” Cave told NPR in 2003. “It should be able to make you feel joyful and a little melancholy at the same time. Love has its melancholy side. I think that love songs that are kind of upbeat, and don’t really have the sigh, aren’t really love songs.”
“Wonderful Life” certainly has the sigh, but it’s also optimistic in its own shadowy, minor-key way. The love that Cave sings of in “Wonderful Life” is portrayed as both imperfect and sacred. “Sometimes the air between us, babe, is unbearably thin,” Cave croons, reflecting the sometimes tumultuous, even ambiguous nature of relationships. “Sometimes it’s wise to lay down your gloves and just give in.”
With each verse’s permutation of the central theme — resistance, conflict, frustration and doubt — Cave always returns to a variation of the same refrain: “It’s a wonderful, wonderful life, if you can find it … It’s a wonderful life that you bring.” There are no illusions about love conquering all, changing the world, curing all ills or any such similar notions. But it’s still a worthy end in itself — a wonderful life, no matter how insignificant it might seem from the outside. It’s a realistic and human look at an intimate connection between two people — even a healthy one. Lest there be any doubt about Cave’s own loverman cred, he’s been married to model Susie Bick for 15 years.