Despite my self-imposed CD purchase moratorium (as I pay off various large purchases we made over the summer) Friday afternoon found me in a music store again. Once I’m in there it is hard to walk away. Instead I bought four albums, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On”, Frank Zappa’s “Joe’s Garage”, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell’s latest “Old Yellow Moon” and a compilation of Gram Parson’s covers called “The Return of the Grievous Angel.”
And then today I couldn’t resist getting Rush’s “Caress of Steel” on vinyl. Damn.
As addictions go, music is a pretty harmless one, although my wallet might feel differently.
Disc 554 is…. Tender Prey
Artist: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Year of Release: 1988
What’s up with the Cover? Nick Cave himself, surrounded by a lot of large red font. Nick looks so young here and I guess since it was twenty-five years ago, he was young.
How I Came To Know It: After an abortive effort buying early Nick Cave with 1985’s “The Firstborn is Dead” I have become a bit nervous going too far back in his catalogue. Nevertheless, a few years ago I risked 1988’s “Tender Prey” when I had a fix for more of his music and couldn’t wait for the next album.
How It Stacks Up: We have eight Nick Cave albums. “Tender Prey” is a good record, but competition is fierce and I’m going to have to put it sixth.
Rating: 3 stars, but only the thinnest of hairs from 4 stars
When an album begins with a song about a man going defiantly into the electric chair you know it is going to be a dark album. Darkness comes easily to Nick Cave, and on “Tender Prey” he mixes in some twisted passion as well; a rough but welcome grab of the wrist between consenting adults.
“The Mercy Seat” has no such consent in it, as one would expect about someone singing about walking their green mile. Cave brings life to his villain, who claims to have no fears to meet his fate, but clearly feels otherwise. It is a good song for setting the mood of the record, but is a bit repetitious and at over seven minutes long it begins to drag near the end. I prefer the five minute video edit tagged onto the end of the album, and preferring a video or radio edit to an original is never a good sign.
Johnny Cash does a cover of “The Mercy Seat” on his “Solitary Man” album from 2000, and I have to say Johnny does it more justice than Nick Cave.
Ever the good Christian, Johnny Cash can’t go to the places Nick goes with all his music. This becomes clear on “Tender Prey’s” second track, “Up Jumped the Devil” another rogue’s tale of a man who knows the devil is coming for him since the day he was born, and that he deserves his fate. The song is packed with Cave’s amazing talent for poetic delivery. Among many great lines, my favourite is:
“I was the baddest Johnny
In the apple cart
My blood was blacker
Than the chambers of a dead nun’s heart.”
Musically, the album is sparse and strange, featuring piano, creative percussion and lots of space that your mind naturally fills in with dread and desire in equal measures.
The love songs on the album are beautiful and broken and pregnant with violence and broken laws. “Deanna” is a song about love during a crime spree that does more in under four minutes than Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” could accomplish in two hours. Of course that is damning with faint praise, Oliver Stone being as bad as he is at making a point. But much as I enjoy a good round of Oliver Stone bashing, I digress…
We were talking love songs, and the most gorgeous one on the album is “Watching Alice.” “Watching Alice” is sparsely arranged even for an album that is committed to sparse arrangement overall. It is mostly a slightly echoed vocal from Nick Cave over top of a sad piano, played in a minor key. “Watching Alice” has no true relationship, being about a man who is only looking into a woman’s window across the street, each day watching her get out of bed and get dressed. It is both creepy and sexy, and Cave manages to marry the two concepts as only he can.
After “Watching Alice” I found the album lost me a little bit. “Mercy” and “City of Refuge” are interesting songs, but they don’t stick with me after I listen to this album the way the earlier songs do. They are good songs, but I think melodically they don’t quite hit exactly right.
He recovers nicely with “Slowly Goes the Night,” where he captures the end of a relationship, and how it feels like a ghost in the room long after it is over. The album traces the loss over ‘ten lonely days and ten lonely nights’ but it is the opening stanza, when she’s just left the bed for the first time, which is the most heart-wrenching:
“Lover, lover goodbye
So slowly goes the night
I trace the print of your body with my hand
Like the map of some forbidden land
I trace the ghost of your bones
With my trembling hand
Dark is my night
But darker is my day yeah
I must’ve been blind
Out of my mind
Not to read the warning signs
How goes it?
It goes slowly
The song that should be the final song on the album is “New Morning” and it has the same effect as “Death is Not the End” at the end of Cave’s 1996 album, “Murder Ballads” dispelling all the shadows Cave has woven around your heart through nine songs that mixed love and sin, death and lust.
However, because my album has the radio edit of “The Mercy Seat” tagged onto the end of the record, the effect is weakened, and you’re dragged back down to the album’s opening. The resulting disconnect holds this record just south of four stars by the slightest of margins.
Best tracks: The Mercy Seat (Video Mix), Up Jumped The Devil, Deanna, Watching Alice