Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Henry’s Dream - Review
← 730 album.png 732 →

critics' view

In a sense, all of Nick Cave’s projects since The Birthday Party have been ways to show that punk rock was always around as an attitude or an aesthetic, whether in country, blues, folk, gospel or whatever else he could get The Bad Seeds to play. (Bear in mind, The Birthday Party were heavier than most of the early-Eighties bands labelled 'post-punk' or 'industrial', so it would have been hard to stay artistically credible being as abrasive or self-destructive forever). A stopgap covers album, Kicking Against the Pricks, had given The Bad Seeds a chance to expand their repertoire, and then The Good Son made piano ballads acceptable (by slipping in a healthy dose of murder).

Having de-camped to Buenos Aires, and taken on Neil Young’s producer (David Briggs), The Bad Seeds could have been succumbing to rock-star cliché, but Cave found all new inspiration in the favelas, where the local buskers played a kind of stripped down, acoustic murder ballad – improvising their lyrics over frantic, percussive, chordal guitar playing. In 1992, The Year Punk Broke™, they sounded like no-one else (as the sleevenotes point out), but they also managed to be more punk than most grunge bands, showing up the banality of the fashion-sense, the narrowness of the musical pedigree, the superficiality of the production values.

My first encounter with Cave & co, Live Seeds (1993) was then (and still is) the most devastating, perfectly captured live-album I had ever heard. As such, the parent album for the best songs (i.e. Henry’s Dream, 1992) has been shamefully neglected over the years… and it is a shame, because songs like ‘Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry’ are a masterclass in narrative songwriting, superior even to ‘The Mercy Seat’ (which fully deserved the Johnny Cash cover, of course, but an aging Cash couldn’t have sung the line about “a fag in a whalebone corset / draping his dick across my cheek”). This is the song where a hard rain IS a-falling in the chorus, and you realize what’s missing from all of Dylan’s best protest songs when Cave snarls “lynch mobs! Death squads! Babies born without brains!” It's the moment when he starts to become the monster he's fighting with.

Matching the opener for energy, but a world away in its piano arrangement, the album’s single was ‘Straight to You’ – at once uplifting and catchy, but almost too forceful, like Liam Gallagher missing the point of one of Noel’s songs – and thereafter the album resumes its favela-punk, with ‘Brother, My Cup Is Empty’, ‘John Finn’s Wife’ (she of the “tattooed breasts and raven hair… legs like scissors and carving knives”) and finally ‘Jack the Ripper’. Around the same time, Afghan Whigs made a classic album with the premise that all women are bitches… and all men are dogs, but Nick Cave was already way ahead of them with his demon lovers hacking at each other, and no-one getting the upper hand.

Alexander Tudor
Drowned in Sound external-link.png

Drowned in Sound, sometimes abbreviated to DiS, is a UK-based music webzine financed by artist management company Silentway. Founded by editor Sean Adams, the site features reviews, news, interviews, and discussion forums. external-link.png
twitter.png facebook.png

Care to share?

(if so, thanks!)

© The Jukebox Rebel 2005-2020. All rights reserved. Third-party trademarks and content are the property of their respective owners, and subject to their own copyright terms and conditions. See the website links provided in each case.