I always had a bit of a gripe with the TV series 24 – which claims to be a drama screened “in real time”. Fair play, one hour after it has started, the story has moved on by an hour – but you have actually only watched 42 minutes of action. In fact, a bit of slack internet research indicates that over the 8 series of 24, the average length of a “day” in 24 world is about 17 hours… and it’s all because of the wonders of advertising and the demands of mainstream media.

The idiot box isn’t the only medium which demands compromise from artists; few radio playlists have enough time for the entirety of ‘Kashmir’, ‘Hurricane’, or the album version of ‘Bat Out of Hell’. While this is something that most people neither notice, nor mourn, there are a significant minority of people who have more than the attention span of a goldfish but miss out on the more extended offerings from the musical world.

Fortunately, the way that we consume media nowadays is allowing for such constraints to be bypassed to some degree, with long videos freely available on web-based video services (you know who I’m talking about) and album versions available on “radio replacements” such as Spotify and Last FM – as well as increasingly being made available for download in unedited forms.

A good example of this is Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ second single from their latest album Push the Sky Away – ‘Jubilee Street’. This is not a band particularly noted for long songs, but the unedited version of ‘Jubilee Street’ is over six and a half minutes long. This is unlikely to be the version you will hear on the radio, however – the disc I received has a “Radio Edit” version which is cut down to three-and-a-half minutes (of course). The major problem I have with this is that big chunks of the narrative have been chopped out of the song – and unlike 24, where all we apparently miss are some disconcertingly synchronised bathroom breaks from the main characters, with ‘Jubilee Street’, it’s like watching a film that keeps on running during the advert breaks, leaving the audience slightly disoriented on their return.

My experience of Nick Cave’s music is that it’s not something to dip in and out of; it’s much more of an immersive  interactive process. It’s a process of storytelling on behalf of the band, and for the listener, it’s a process of uncovering that story – which is rarely plain in its telling. Over their history, this band has earned the right to be taken seriously whatever they do and to be set free as one of few widely popular groups to whom the rules of popular music don’t necessarily apply.

I credit the decision to release this song as a single – it’s got a great deal of character, with powerful and memorable lines, both melodically as well as lyrically (I won’t do the disservice of quoting fragments out of the context of the song). The confidence and the assured restraint of the musicians allows ‘Jubilee Street’ to build and expand over its length, starting out as a sparse and empty, circular progression upon which melody lines gradually form and build, driving towards a drawn-out instrumental outro, never venturing into something so crass as a chorus. It is a very understated piece of work, but it’s excellent craft to create such a moody yet spacious background; a perfect canvas upon which Nick Cave paints the bold lyrical strokes of his abstract vision. The whole song has a very relaxed feeling but maintains an underlying tension which matches the dark poetry which overlays it.

The unedited version of ‘Jubilee Street’ takes its own time in reaching a climax, instead of being squashed and distorted into what has been decided upon as the “ideal” length of a song. It’s sad to realise just how restrictive the music industry so often is, that something that is most definitely art is always under pressure to fit into a rigidly defined set of boundaries. Art and music should be challenging, and we as music lovers should welcome anything which encourages music to appear in as many different forms and shapes and sizes as possible. We’re not all going to like it – but we will be challenged, and stimulated, and rewarded by the experience.

Release Date 25/02/2013 (Bad Seed Ltd)

Chris Oliver

I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.