Heaven Has Denied Us Its Kingdom: an ongoing retrospective on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Last week, I talked about how The Good Son (1990) was a turning point for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. In 1992, they added to their new canon with Henry’s Dream. Like its predecessor, Henry’s Dream is haunted by Sao Paulo, but the mood has darkened, tinged with violence and vitriol. The album has plenty of standout tracks, assisted by an increasingly coherent approach thanks to the band’s new additions of Conway Savage and Martyn Casey. Like The Good Son, this is an album rather than a collection of songs; the tracks hold together rather than feeling like experiments on a theme.

Henry’s Dream is marked by several extended narratives, and these increasingly compelling lyrics demonstrate that Cave’s storytelling skills were expanding to new levels. A good example of this is the opening track, ‘Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry’. If you haven’t heard it before, snarl it out loud with apocalypse and venom in your soul: spit the words like bullets.

I went out walking the other day, the wind hung wet around my neck
My head it rung with screams and groans from the night I spent amongst her bones
I passed beside the mission house where that mad old buzzard, the reverend,
Shrieked and flapped about life after your dead
Well, I thought about my friend, Michel, how they rolled him in linoleum and shot him in the neck
A bloody halo, like a think-bubble circling his head
And I bellowed at the firmament
Looks like the rains are hear to stay
And the rain pissed down upon me and washed me all away, saying
Papa won’t leave you, Henry
Papa won’t leave you, boy
Well, the road is long and the road is hard and many fall by the side
But Papa won’t leave you Henry, so there ain’t no need to cry
And I went on down the road

Well, the moon it looked exhausted like something you should pity
Spent an age-spotted above the sizzling wires of the city
Well, it reminded me of her face, her bleached and hungry eyes
Her hair was like a curtain – falling open with the laughter and closing with the lies
But the ghost of her still lingers on though she’s passed through me and is gone
The slum dogs, they are barking
And the rain children on the streets
And the tears that we will weep today will all be washed away by the tears that we will weep again tomorrow
Papa won’t leave you, Henry
Papa won’t leave you, boy
Well, the road is long and the road is hard and many fall by the side
But Papa won’t leave you, Henry, so there ain’t no need to cry
And I went on down the road

And I came upon a little house, a little house upon a hill
And I entered through, the curtain hissed, into the house with its blood-red bowels
Where wet-lipped women with greasy fists crawled the ceilings and the walls
They filled me full of drink and led me round the rooms, naked and cold and grinning
Until everything went black and I came down spinning
I awoke so drunk and full of rage that I could hardly speak
A fag in a whale-bone corset draping his dick across my cheek
And it’s into the shame, and it’s into a guilt and it’s into the fucking fray
And the walls ran red around me, a warm arterial spray, saying
Papa won’t leave you, Henry
Papa won’t leave you, boy
Well, the night is dark and the night is deep and its jaws are open wide
But Papa won’t leave you, Henry, so there ain’t no need to cry
And I went on down the road

It’s the rainy season where I’m living
Death comes leaping out of every doorway; wasting you for money, for your clothes, and for your nothing
Entire towns being washed away, favelas exploding on inflammable spillways
Lynch-mobs, death squads, babies being born without brains
The mad heat and the relentless rains
And if you stick your arm into that hole it comes out sheared off to the bone
And with her kisses bubbling on my lips
I swiped the rain and nearly missed
And I went on down the road, singing
Papa won’t leave you, Henry
Papa won’t leave you, boy
Well, the road is long and the road is hard and many fall by the side
But Papa won’t leave you, Henry, so there ain’t no need to cry

And I went on down the road, bent beneath my heavy load
Yeah, I went on down the road

 

Henry’s Dream wasn’t the first Bad Seeds album I heard, but it’s close to it. The songs don’t have specific memories attached to them, not like ‘Sad Waters’ or ‘The Carny’ from Your Funeral…, but I know almost every song from it, note for note, word for word. It’s part of 1996’s soundtrack for me, along with Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. Perhaps not the happiest year, that one.

Perhaps my only critique of Henry’s Dream is that it’s a little sterile in places, trading the spontaneity of earlier albums for a more predictable approach. In Nick Cave’s biography, Bad Seed (Ian Johnstone), it’s mentioned that the Bad Seeds, for their part, found the album a touch over-produced; the subsequent live album, Live Seeds (1993), was a partial reaction to that, an attempt to infuse the songs with the rawness that they felt had been left out in the studio (and it’s bloody good, too).

Building on their growing commercial and critical success, the Bad Seeds’ next release was Let Love In (1994). Even more so than The Good Son or Henry’s Dream, this sounds like the Bad Seeds at the top of their game. Like Henry’s Dream, this album does feel a touch over-produced, a wee bit studio-bound, a tiny bit safer than it needs to be. That’s not to talk it down in any way; there are absolute gems here, ranging from libido drenched ‘Loverman’, the genuinely hilarious ‘Thirsty Dog’, and the soaring title track. It’s also the album that provided us with that staple of so many soundtracks, ‘Red Right Hand’ – a little overexposed to be one of my favourite Bad Seeds tracks, but as good an entry point as any.

Let Love In was the album that someone used to try and get me into Nick Cave and his oeuvre. It didn’t work. I was listening to Pearl Jam’s Vs, Nine Inch Nails’ Broken, and a lot of Faith No More (and I do mean a lot). Cave’s ‘unique’ vocal talents didn’t appeal to me, not straight away. The film clip for ‘Do You Love Me?’, with Brazilian transvestites, bad suits and drunk men dancing badly? Didn’t get it. Conway Savage’s gorgeous piano /organ pieces left me cold, and the band’s lush, multi-layered sound confused me. It doesn’t sound like anything I’d heard. Do I think it’s a great Bad Seeds album now? Absolutely. Is it the best entry point for the band? Possibly, but it wasn’t for me right then.

January 1996 was when I discovered Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but it wasn’t 1995’s ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ that did it for me, nor was it ‘96’s Murder Ballads. Nope, it was a b-side.

Next week: The Ballad of Robert Moore and Betty Coltrane.

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