Tuesday, July 26, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 894: Nick Cave

I am pretty tired tonight, but this Odyssey won’t sail itself, so here we go…

Disc 894 is….The Good Son
Artist: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Year of Release: 1990

What’s up with the Cover? The second cover in a row to feature kids. This time there are four ankle biters and Uncle Nick is playing them a tune on the piano. Knowing Cave’s musical canon, whatever he’s playing has a good chance to give them all nightmares. They should all be thankful Cave won't release “Murder Ballads” for another six years.

How I Came To Know It: About six months ago I was poking around Nick Cave’s back catalogue to see if there were any albums I still wanted. I purchased “The Good Son” and “Let Love In” at that time.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 10 of Nick Cave’s 15 studio albums, which is everything from 1988 to now with the exception of “Henry’s Dream” (which didn’t grab me). I don’t really dig his earlier work, so I’ll save a spot for “Skeleton Key” (being released this coming September) but otherwise consider my collection complete. Of those 10, “The Good Son” is a good record held down by the fact that Nick Cave has so many good records. I must reluctantly put it…ninth.

Because this is the last Nick Cave album I currently own, here’s a recap:

  1. Murder Ballads: 4 stars (reviewed back at Disc 369)
  2. The Boatman’s Call: 4 stars (reviewed back at Disc 13)
  3. Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus: 4 stars (reviewed back at Disc 525)
  4. No More Shall We Part: 4 stars (reviewed back at Disc 65)
  5. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!: 4 stars (reviewed back at Disc 308)
  6. Let Love In:  4 stars (reviewed back at Disc 810)
  7. Tender Prey: 3 stars (reviewed back at Disc 554)
  8. Push the Sky Away: 3 stars (reviewed back at Disc 765)
  9. The Good Son: 3 stars (reviewed right here)
  10. Nocturama: 3 stars (reviewed back at Disc 370)
Ratings: 3 stars

“The Good Son” opens with a song titled “Foi Na Cruz” which is Portuguese for “it happened on the cross.” It sets the tone for an album that feels solemn and sacred like a church hymn but with a sense of foreboding; a mind sliver of discomfiture that Cave twists into all of his art.
If I hadn’t taken the time to look up what “Foi Na Cruz” meant it wouldn’t have mattered much; when Nick Cave sings something you just know it is important. His rich and haunting baritone has a gravitas regardless of what he’s saying.

The whole record feels like it was recorded in an echoing church hall, and many songs besides “Foi Na Cruz” have strong hymnal qualities, including “The Ship Song” and “The Witness Song.

Of the three, “The Ship Song” is the most beautiful. It is a gentle piano-driven love song, with backup singers humming and Cave inviting his lady to:

“Come sail your ships around me
And burn your bridges down
We make a little history, baby
Every time you come around

“Come loose your dogs upon me
And let your hair hang down
You are a little mystery to me
Every time you come around.”

God damn, Nick Cave is a sexy man, and he drenches these lyrics with desire and dark promises that can’t be denied.

The Weeping Song” is Cave at his dirgiest, as he witnesses men and women weeping for each other. Cave points out the children are not weeping, but merely crying since “true weeping is yet to come.” It is a nuanced divide between mere fear and sadness and true existential dread – the latter being a Nick Cave specialty. The song has a driving beat that establishes a powerful sense of inevitability; that weeping will come for all of us one day. It is grim and glorious.

I recently watched Nick Cave’s documentary “20,000 Days on Earth” made during the making of the 2013 album “Push the Sky Away,” and Cave reveals one of his songwriting secrets is to take two unrelated images and hold them up to one another (I am paraphrasing). I thought of it listening to “Lament” as he sings:

“I've seen your fairground hair,
Your seaside eyes
Your vampire tooth, your little truth
Your tiny lie”

Great stuff, although the album is not without its faults. Both the title track and “The Witness Song” are six minutes long and both need to end two minutes sooner. Cave is attempting to cast a spell with his church-like delivery and scripted delivery on both tracks, but the songs lack the necessary combination of malleability and strength to withstand the treatment. “Lament” survives on the strength of its lyrics, and it “The Weeping Song” and “The Ship Song” are the album’s three true standouts.

For all that, the record is still a good one. Cave is the master of choosing just the right chord variations as the match to his majestic melodies. “The Good Son” is quiet and gentle for a Nick Cave album, but it still has more to say than your average rock record and is worth a listen. If nothing else, play “The Ship Song” for your lover and thank me later. If you don’t have a lover, and you’re wondering what life’s all about then play “The Weeping Song” and take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in feeling alone.

Best tracks:  The Weeping Song, The Ship Song, Lament

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