NICK CAVE, UNLIKE his compatriot and one-time collaborator, Kylie Minogue, has never been accused of looking lovely. They say that at the age of 50 a man has the face he deserves. And nearing his half-century, Nick Cave's looks like a composite of visages: bat, pixie and Marvin Lee. Far less known outside Australia and Europe than Kylie, Cave is the most enduring and to many, the most remarkable singer-songwriter to have emerged from the antipodes. And even if he was not, he looks as if he should be. And never more so than on stage, where, in one of his undertaker-style suits, limbs moving like a startled praying mantis, Cave sings rambling narratives of God, life and death, redemption, having money, having no money, bordellos, outlaws, murder and angels. Echoing his song-writing schtick, Cave's life makes for quite a yarn. It began in a fairly normal fashion in 1957 when he was born in off-the-map Warracknabeal in the state of Victoria. His English teacher father instilled in his son a love of literature that was to reveal itself abundantly in adulthood. Raised in a strict Christian household, Cave's first involvement in music came with singing in the boys' choir at Wangaratta Cathedral. His first taste of the big time came with his London-based punk band The Birthday Party. After establishing a cult following in Europe and Australia, The Birthday Party disbanded in 1984, burnt out by a rock 'n' roll lifestyle that Cave in particular took to extremes. The late '80s was an active time for Cave. Having recovered from the excesses of The Birthday Party, he had decamped to Berlin (still a divided city then) and formed Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. The band's debut album, released in 1984, From Her to Eternity, attained cult status, if not mainstream acceptance, and showcased Cave's new-found lyrical elan. The band has recorded more than a dozen albums since. Theological themes weave through his oeuvre, and so it seems apt that Cave, a devout though often troubled Christian, was commissioned to write the foreword to a Canongate publication of The Gospel According To Mark, published in Britain in 1998. Through the 1990s, Cave, with his Bad Seeds, churned out a significant body of recorded work that included what is generally considered their masterpiece, the 1994 album Let Love In. The following year Cave invited Minogue to record a duet with him for his Murder Ballads album. Where The Wild Roses Grow, despite, its morbid lyrics (he the murderer; she the victim) it went on to be a surprise worldwide hit, winning three Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) awards along the way, including 'Song Of The Year'. Incongruously sharing the same stage, the lanky Cave and diminutive Minogue performed the song at several rock festivals around the world, including Australia's multi-city Big Day Out in 1996. Minogue said of Cave: 'He taught me to never veer too far from who I am, to try different things but never lose sight of myself at the core. For me, the hard part was unleashing the core of myself and still being totally truthful in my music.' Minogue's mass appeal contrasts strongly with Cave's uncompromising determination to wield complex metaphysical narratives to a sonic stew of alternative and gothic rock, the blues, and - his inner Wangaratta choirboy having never deserted him - gospel. As prolific as ever, Cave is in business-as-usual mode. He is currently writing more songs of ordinary madness.