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Nick Cave:
Crime and The City Solution

Nick Cave/Crime & The City Solution

Formed Sydney, Australia, 1978; disbanded 1992

Although Crime and The City Solution had existed since 1978, when they were formed by singer Simon Bonney, it was in London in 1984 that the band took on its true shape. Bonney joined up with ex-Birthday Party members Mick Harvey (multi-instrumentalist) and Rowland S Howard (guitar), together with Howard’s brother Harry on bass, and released a self-produced debut EP, The Dangling Man, in 1985. Though they were overshadowed by fellow Birthday Party veterans Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (Mick Harvey had even become a part-time Bad Seed), Crime were slowly developing their distinctive sound in which Tom Waits-inspired blues combined with swamp rock and Ennio Morricone, complementing the existential lyrics of Bonney and his wife Bronwyn Adams.

Joined by drummer Epic Soundtracks, the band showed signs of development on the 1985 mini-album, Just South Of Heaven, a dark record which never lost sight of possible redemption. They went on to crystallize this aesthetic with their first full album—1986’s Room Of Lights. Simultaneously despairing and uplifting, the record gave free rein to the epic ambitions of their music, with Rowland Howard’s guitar spiralling off into the yonder on “Six Bells Chime," while Bonney’s grainy voice reached its full potential on “Right Man Wrong Man.”

The band was a natural choice for filmmaker Wim Wenders, who had them perform “Six Bells Chime” for his classic Berlin love story, Wings of Desire. It turned out to be their last act in the original incarnation—the Howard brothers and Epic Soundtracks leaving to form These Immortal Souls. The remainder of Crime stayed in Berlin, where Room Of Lights had been partly recorded, and re-invented itself. Bronwyn Adams became a full-time member on violin, while Chrislo Haas, Thomas Stern and Alexander Hacke were recruited from the local avant-garde scene.

This new line-up produced Shine (1988), Crime’s finest album, and one of the most overlooked releases of its time. Howard’s bluesy guitar had been replaced with a more restrained, almost oriental, feel while the blend of violin and organ, like The Velvet Underground at their least truculent, introduced a tension that made the album smoulder. The uplifting devotion of the folky “On Every Train (Grain Will Bear Grain)” and the heartbreaking nostalgia of “Home Is Far From Here” demonstrated Bonney and Adams’ grasp of emotional intangibles.

Shine was largely ignored on its release, but the undeterred Crime began work on The Bride Ship (1989). Perhaps inevitably it failed to surpass its predecessor, lacking its delicacy of touch and atmosphere, but it did include some great moments, including an impressive reworking of “The Dangling Man.” The Bride Ship also revealed Bonney’s growing interest in the narrative song-cycle as a method of developing themes—in its trilogy of the same name he addressed the idealism and disillusionment of the emigrant.

Crime’s last album was 1990’s Paradise Discotheque, which possessed some magical moments, like the beautiful “The Dolphins And The Sharks,” but also showed a loss of subtlety. Inspired by the downfall of the Ceaucescu regime, Bonney’s song-cycle “Last Dictator” was over-ambitious and strayed uncomfortably close to the pomposity of the concept album. After contributing “The Adversary” to the sound track of Wim Wenders’ ill-advised sci-fi venture, Until the End of the World, Crime was all but finished. Mick Harvey continued to work with Nick Cave, and later PJ Harvey (no relation), while Bonney and Adams worked together on the former’s excellent country-inflected solo album, Forever (1992).

While Crime and The City Solution were generally critically lauded, they never became particularly well-known, unable to escape the circumstances of their genealogy. Nevertheless, they were among the most spell-binding of rock’s doomed romantics, and remain one of the great undiscovered bands of the last decade.


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