So I have learned a lot about Blixa Bargeld (first lead guitarist of the Bad Seeds, from 1983-2003) since the release of Lovely Creatures a few months ago.
Since I knew Blixa played an electric guitar, I assumed that he was the one behind the riffs and solos–for example, the melodic introductory solo at the beginning of “Let Love In.” But when I watched the (AMAZING) DVD of live performances that came with Lovely Creatures, I found that all those solo bits were actually played by Mick Harvey. Blixa always seemed to be off to the side with a slide on his guitar, and I couldn’t even hear him in the mix. I started to wonder just what the hell he ever actually did, other than the lead vocals on “The Weeping Song.”
Then I started to read the essays in the Lovely Creatures book. About Blixa the un-guitarist, the guitarist who hates the guitar. How he produces noise instead of music. I read about how he operated on their first album, From Her to Eternity, and listened again to it. Understanding Blixa’s role actually let me get more out of that hard-to-listen-to album than I ever have before. I’ve listened to it a handful of times since, and it’s helped me find my way in to loving it. Same goes for Kicking Against the Pricks and Your Funeral My Trial, two albums I used to keep at arms’ length (I’ve always loved The Firstborn is Dead). Understanding Blixa not only unlocked his contributions to those albums, but gave me a better appreciation for Nick and Mick’s parts too.
The next problem: What the hell did he do after Tender Prey? The Bad Seeds drifted away from the noise and toward melody and beauty in the 90′s, and Blixa stayed for a decade. My initial question remained: Just what did he contribute?
Well, I found him. It takes a more careful listen to appreciate Blixa in the later albums, but he’s in there. Where before I erroneously credited him with the exciting melodic part of “Let Love In,” his real contribution to that song is so essential it has to be subtle. There is a persistent shrill whine in the mix, responding in highly intuitive ways to what Nick does with his vocals. It’s never something I paid much attention to, but now that I have, it’s one of my favorite features of the song.
His touch is lighter the lighter the album. Take Boatman’s Call. I listened for him there, thinking he must have sat out every song. And he isn’t on all of them, but he’s around more than you’d think, since that album eschews noise almost entirely. My favorite example is in the bridge of “There is a Kingdom.” An ethereal, aching whalesong of a slide guitar part, counterpointed perfectly by an acoustic guitar (I assume Mick, but my assumptions can’t be trusted). He must play for ten seconds on the whole song, but the song couldn’t do without him all the same. Blixa has a light, just-right touch. He knows when to be an absence as well as a presence. Something I think you can say about approximately zero other lead guitarists.
So from noise machine to subtle contributor, I just want to tip my hat to Blixa Bargeld. The most bizarre of the Bad Seeds, and THAT IS SAYING SOMETHING. His de facto replacement, Warren Ellis, is more versatile–he can turn from barrage of noise to melody on a dime–but he is not Blixa.