Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Reissued
With a career nearly 30 years old, members of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, past and present, are certainly in a position to look back over their shoulders at what they have already accomplished. From substance abuse to experimenting with new musical directions, the band has navigated through issues that would have caused other groups to split. April 2009 saw Mute Records bringing back out the band’s first four albums, and in March 2010, the label remastered and reissued the next three records in the band’s catalog—Tender Prey, The Good Son, and Henry’s Dream. As a unit, these records capture a band pushing in different directions musically and lyrically, unafraid to challenge its ever-changing members and its fans.
As the final Bad Seeds album to be released before the band tried collectively to sober up, Tender Prey is the culmination of that fitful, creative spirit that sometimes goes with addiction. Mortality and morality are two themes that thread their way through most of the songs on the album, with Cave both witnessing the downfall of others and beginning for his own forgiveness. Though the album is just ten tracks long, two titles include the word “mercy,” an indication that the band as a whole knew they could only run from their demons for so long.
While Tender Prey is at times weighed down by its own dirty, gritty tone, there are times when that edge is the source of a song’s charm. Opening track “The Mercy Seat” thrives on creating an atmosphere of disturbance from the beginning, from the driving chorus professing no fear of death to Cave’s vocals switching from a croon to a shout. “Up Jumped the Devil” is another classic, meandering piano and steady drums making the song sound like a dark cabaret honoring a lost life. Listening to this album is like watching a scratchy old Western film in which the enemy is the Devil, captured from the perspective of the men gathered around the saloon piano. The album may not resonate well with people who tire of concepts easily, but individual tracks can definitely be appreciated for their haunting and haunted qualities.
After years of emotional darkness, the band’s next offering, The Good Son, incorporates the same optimism its name implies. There are times when Cave’s voice struggles to sound as delicate as the lyrics he shares, and fans of the band’s previous aggression may take issue with the fragile string section that makes the whole album sound more cinematic than post-punk. Still, The Good Son shows a band willing to experiment and express its own feelings rather than appeal to its own core audience.
Calling upon blues and folk, early rock and a bit of punk, the record flits between genres according to whichever happens to fit the material best at the time. The title track starts out sounding like a revivalist chant and then morphs into a sound more recognizable as The Bad Seeds, whereas “The Witness Song” sounds like something that might be performed within a church. “The Ship Song” creates a perfect slow dance with poetic lyrics and carefully arranged instrumentation, a beautiful surprise that has since remained a popular track for other artists to cover. The Good Son captures a fragile, transitional phase in life and ought to be appreciated for its content rather than being decried for the sounds the band had left behind.
The Bad Seeds excel at songs that craft small stories with vivid details, so with many tracks incorporating specific characters, Henry’s Dream is like a stage production or chapters within the same book. From “Christina the Astonishing,” featuring a young woman who dies only to rise from the grave, to “John Finn’s Wife,” the tale of a love triangle ending in murder, fiction and lore become just as powerful as the personal when told by voice as gravely and captivating as Cave’s.
The Bad Seeds shine particularly well on this record, at times even overshadowing Cave. The addition of Conway Savage to the band, in addition to Martyn P. Casey, fleshes out the band enough that the instruments all mesh together rather than battling for the spotlight. Some tracks exhibit the same brisk, dark sound the band has always toyed with while others, such as “Straight to You,” have a much more polished, straightforward sound, indicating a group much more comfortable with honing its craft. “When I First Came to Town” is a standout, with Savage’s backing vocals blending and competing with Cave’s to call all the more attention to the fact that The Bad Seeds are much more than their iconic frontman. With Henry’s Dream, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds reclaim their intensity and aggression without airing personal demons, paving the way for a more balanced, mature sound to appeal to old fans and attract new ones.