Tag: music

songs of love and hate

Sorry all, no substantial mid-week update this time around. I’d like to say it’s my new job, with the 10+ hour days that it brings, but it probably has as much to do with purchasing 30 Rock Season 5 on DVD and watching almost the entire thing in a couple of sittings. Mea culpa.

To tide you all over, here’s my latest Bad Seeds mixtape. I’ve shown a little less discipline this time, and you’ll need a 90 minute tape this time around (we’re over forty minutes a side here). The songs are from albums I’ve discussed over the last couple of weeks and give moderately equal billing to ’90 to ’96’s releases. Side 1 is a broad cross-section of the Cave’s output over that half-decade and generally gives the softer side of things. The reverse provides lust, violence and jagged vitriol: change sides depending on your mood. 

Side 1:
The Ship Song
Loom of the Land
Straight to You
The Weeping Song
Nobody’s Baby Now
I Let Love In
Henry Lee
Lucy

Side 2:
Do You Love Me?
The Hammer Song
Brother, My Cup Is Empty
Loverman
The Ballad of Robert Moore & Betty Coltrane
Lovely Creature
Cocks ‘n’ Asses
Staggerlee
Jack the Ripper

For those who weren’t paying close attention last week, ‘The Ballad…’ was first released on Where The Wild Roses Grow, but you’re better off tracking it down on B-Sides and Rarities. ‘Cocks ‘n’ Asses’, b-side to The Weeping Song single, is on the same compilation.

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.

Wild World: reflections on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, part 1

First, some housekeeping notes. My apologies to all who subscribed in September only to find that my output dropped off sharply in the
past fortnight. Few things breeds disinterest faster in the world of blogging than uneven output, so I’ll commit myself to weekly updates from this point on. You may get extra posts here and there, but I figure a regular day each week may reduce frustration amongst you loyal few.

Second, to those of you who only seem to find my blog via the googled phrase ‘robotic cloaca’: you disturb me.

Now, onto the proper stuff.

It’s a cliché, I know, to say that a musician provides a soundtrack to your life. But in my case, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds come very close indeed to such a soundtrack. There are bands I have loved more, bands I’ve listened to for longer, but Cave and his ever-changing cohort have managed to mark moments in my life like no other.

I did not come to him chronologically and, in a pre-MP3 world, experienced the music album by album, without any context beyond that which I provided or figured out for myself. So, I’m here to help you. Cave’s music isn’t particularly approachable, and the sheer size of his back-catalogue can intimidate those trying to find an entry point. Some of his songs are absolutely spellbinding, some of it less so – his career spans decades after all, so there are going to be both gems and clunkers in there. Over upcoming weeks, I’ll be providing a primer for newer listeners as well as giving some context into what I enjoy about his work. I should add that none of this was Wikipedia-d (is that a word now? The spell-check doesn’t seem to pick it up…); this means any inaccuracies are mine alone, and that I’ll slap anyone who says ‘citation needed’.

To start the story proper, we need to go back before the Bad Seeds.

Cave made his start in the burgeoning post-punk scene of Melbourne, Australia. His first band, the Boys Next Door, emerged from the ruins of an earlier high-school band. Their one and only album, the oddly titled Door, Door (1979) is patchy but – and I say this with some difficulty, as it sounds like I am descending into lazy phraseology quite early – does show promise of things to come. This is, if for nothing else, thanks to the album’s standout song, ‘Shivers’. Shivers was not penned by Cave at all, but rather by the band’s eminently gifted guitarist, Rowland Howard. It in the intervening years, it’s become a staple for Aussie bands, produced and reproduced in increasingly commercial versions. I think that many Australians would recognise the song, but few would know who originally wrote it.

The Boys Next Door’s ambitions were bigger than Melbourne, however, and in 1979 there was only one place to go for antipodean punks. So, off to London it was, with a change of name and a hardened attitude.  The Birthday Party, as they were now known, attacked the London underground scene with, by all reports, a hypnotic intensity.

The Birthday Party may have been many things, but they weren’t long-lasting. The band lasted for only four years before drugs, alcohol, conflicting musical visions and Cave’s increasingly autocratic role in the group all conspired to bring the group down. It was a prolific time though, with a raft of albums, EPs and singles released in a relatively short space of time.

The music of The Birthday Party is confused and angry – perhaps not much different, in that sense, from any other band of twentysomethings in that post-punk era (or indeed, any other era). There is also a roughness and a dirtiness to their sound, no doubt inherited from their new surroundings in an unwelcoming new country. Lastly, there is a fierce and almost violent lyricism; Cave collected phrases, accents and obscure verbiage from his readings, and used them as weapons.

I came to the Party late, after my views on Cave’s music were already quite well-formed. As such, it’s quite difficult to appreciate them on their own terms, as opposed to some chrysalis stage for what came next. The best introduction I can provide for newer listeners is, undoubtedly, Hits. First released in 1992, this compilation takes the best bits of The Birthday Party’s output and crams those four, ferocious years into twenty tracks. The band’s progress in that time is easily tracked; from the rawness of early releases like ‘The Friend Catcher’ and the faux-goth ‘Release The Bats’, through to the more lyrical and Southern Gothic mood of ‘Jennifer’s Veil’ and ‘Deep in the Woods’.

If The Birthday Party had continued on, or if Nick Cave (or indeed, any other member of the band) hadn’t achieved later fame, would we care about them? Probably not greatly, no. They would be cultishly remembered by a handful for having some powerful songs, an occasionally terrifying stage presence and a sound that betrayed the competing musical interests of the band’s members – so, not too dissimiliar to how they are remembered now. At their worst they tended toward the juvenile and masturbatory, while at their best the Birthday Party demonstrated a fine, dark swagger that belied their experience and set them apart from anything resembling a peer.

A striking element of their sound and appearance is their lack of consistency or attempt to create a certain style. At this distant remove, it’s easy to say that the band’s internal conflicts provided it with a degree of strength that other bands of the same era may have lacked. Certainly, The Birthday Party possessed passion, and showmanship, and lyricism – all fine traits, and ones to be admired in any band. By any length of the imagination, they were both a product of their time yet so very out of place in the increasingly vapid musical landscape that was the early ’80s – although, then again, I can’t think of a time that they would have comfortably sat within. While Cure fans were bouncing along to ‘Lovecats’ and Michael Jackson was putting together Thriller, Nick Cave was singing of biblical Falls from Grace that merged and melded with tales of heroin abuse. And I don’t think he’d have had it any other way.

Without reaching for Google, what happened to the members of the band? One-time drummer Phill Calvert disappeared for all intents and purposes, while the intimidating bass player Tracy Pew died shortly afterward in a tragic accident. Multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey, the backbone of the Birthday Party, moved with Cave and continued in his role as steadfast lieutenant for long years in the Bad Seeds. Rowland Howard, meanwhile, creator of the haunting ‘Shivers’, moved between several bands throughout the 8os and 90s, culminating in a series of solo projects. He eventually achieved critical acclaim on his own terms, but never approached the exposure of the Birthday Party’s more famous spinoff, the Bad Seeds. Howard died a short while ago, and whilst I never delved into his work to the same extent as Cave’s, I keenly felt his loss. He was a gifted songwriter and musician, and I think the world is poorer for him not being in it.

Next week: Blues, Berlin and the beginning of the Bad Seeds.