After remaining tremendously prolific since the inception of his new band The Bad Seeds, by 1997 Nick Cave had over fifteen years with them and a relationship with PJ Harvey behind him. The previous year's self-parodying Murder Ballads album had made him a star, partly thanks to the censor-baiting 'Stagger Lee.' But, perhaps due to his breakup with Harvey, Cave chose once again to confound the expectations of those around him.
The Boatman's Call is like an anti-Cave album. Of course, Nick Cave had done ballads before, some beautiful, some tender, some ironic, but never before had he put together an entire album of crooning, skeletal songs rarely featuring more than a piano for company of the man himself. Often regarded as the best he ever made, I find it not quite so good; but it's certainly fractured and beautiful.
'Into My Arms' lets you know how the rest of the album is going to go. With little instrumentation, the Bad Seeds are all but absent across the disc. But when they do appear, it's worth it, lending polite synthesizers to 'Lime Tree Arbour,' or even a solitary bass guitar to 'Into My Arms.' What emerges is some of the most pleasant music Cave has ever produced (excluding 'Green Eyes') and certainly the most hymnal, as on 'There Is A Kingdom' or 'People Ain't No Good,' the latter remaining a staple in his live sets to this day.
I only really appreciated this album after seeing Nick Cave live; when you hear his punked-up, ravaged version of 'West Country Girl,' a mess of feedback and piano smashing, you'll long for the quiet sanctity of this album. A fitting end to the first phase of his career, before he re-emerged four years later.