on 5 February 2002
To say that all of Nick Cave's albums before this point had been solely about murder is slanderous. That said death, dirt, darkness and rage have tended to be recurring themes throughout his entire career. The watermark for this was his previous album 'Murder Ballads' which examined the actions of numerous psychos in intrepid detail. It charted the victims, tried to find reason within a serial killer's head and generally exhumed all possible blood and gore it could from its limiting themes.
So where did this simply stunning album come from? Is the man getting more sensitive with age? On this evidence it would certainly seem so. The gentle piano which sparks the album to life is as big a contrast to the content of 'Murder Ballads' as one could find. In fact, 'Into My Arms' is a truly fine, almost sickly sweet love song which, were it not for Nick Cave's howl and the 'smarter than the average bear' lyrics, could belong to Burt Bacharach.
Fear not. Cave has not become a complete softie. Though he has clearly found a muse of sorts this has not stopped him from seeing the dark side of love. The title 'People Just Ain't No Good' speaks for itself. Within love there are doubts and 'The Boatman Calls', as well as celebrating the joys it can bring, bears witness to the pain of it falling apart.
Some of the tracks, are better than others. 'Brompton Oratory' and 'There Is A Kingdom' don't stand out in the same way as 'Far From Me' and 'Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere' but that is not to say that they do not merit their place. As some of the very best albums do, 'The Boatman Calls' requires you to listen to everything, providing you with an emotional odyssey rather than a set of songs.
This is an essential album to anyone who appreciates genuinely heartbreaking songwriting. If you try it, you will be rewarded. And all this from the man who 'killed' Kylie Minogue.
on 15 January 2004
Cave says it himself. The best love songs are the ones that deal with the more melancholic aspects of the emotion... jealousy, loss, betrayal, misery and so on. I share his viewpoint. For most, love is a painful sentiment too hard to express; even the best songwriters have at times been forced to rely on bland clichés and empty sentimental musings. Not Cave though. Here he is able to wrap his painful expressions in a number of metaphorical shrouds in order to create a more reflective experience for the listener... though, never does he feel the need to hide the more personal aspects of the songs.
The music always reflects the lyrics; so here we have Cave's signature piano style acting as the backing for his affecting baritone vocals. The bass is strong, the drumming slow, the strings distant and mournful... each of the Bad Seeds bring a unique angle to the emotional make-up of the music that creates an even more resonant listening experience. The songs are all cut from the same cloth, but the deft musicianship of the band means that each track has it's own musical signature. So we have slow, melodic piano ballads like the sorrowful and deeply religious Into My Arms; up-tempo instrumentation work like Idiot Prayer; and beautiful, but sobering string based confessionals such as Lime Tree Arbour, and my personal favourite, People Ain't No Good.
Cave's lyrics have never been better, as he leaves behind the over the top narrative ramblings of the previous album, Murder Ballads, and instead infuses his words with a sense of gutter-trash poetry and haunting religious symbolism. Many of the compositions have a painful intimacy to them akin to Dylan's seminal Blood on the Tracks, in which we can actually feel the singer emotionally opening up to the listener in the hope that that one special person may be out there paying attention. It may lack the cultural relevance of Dylan's album, though it is AS hauntingly beautiful in it's ideals. Quite simply, this is a must.
on 30 March 2004
When you listen to the deranged row of The Birthday Party and early Bad Seeds albums like From Her To Eternity and Tender Prey, it is hard to believe that Nick Cave even lived till 1997, let alone lived to record this deeply sombre and moving album of piano ballads. The first line is "I don't believe in an interventionist God." So obviously from the start the intense tone of this head-spinningly brilliant masterpiece is set. Lyrically the album is impossibly romantic and I could offer practically any line from any song as a quote, so wonderful are the words to these beautiful songs. As with other most writers of this ilk Cave fell prey to drink and drug abuse during his career, and in common with the fabulous love songs of other noted indulgers Tom Waits and Shane McGowan, the music is best when pondering loss and pain. Cave's voice is tone-perfect throughout and this is arguably the best singer-songwriter album of the 90's. The Bad Seeds remain unintrusive but add to every song's atmosphere in a beautifully discreet way. Every music fan should own this album, it is Cave's finest, and maybe, just maybe, he is a better lyricist than Bob Dylan.
This album with its spiritual imagery contains the odd anthemic ballad, like the rousing There Is A Kingdom, and intimate, subdued songs like Into My Arms, Lime Tree Arbour and the resigned People Ain't No Good. Cave interweaves spiritual and sensual metaphor, much like Leonard Cohen. On Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere? one half expects those Cohenesque female vocals to frame his deep voice, but they're not there. My favorite is the weary and erotic Green Eyes, the first line of which is a translation of a sonnet by the medieval French poet Louise Lab. She was the first to write sonnets in French (the style originated in Italy) and was known for her passionate themes. Cave then turns her love poem into a lament of epic proportions filled with equal amounts of romantic longing and despair. Quite a tour de force and enhanced by a strategic swear word or two. The poetic effect is greatly enhanced by the vocal technique: lines are first spoken then sung, which gives it a very ritualistic flavour. Fans of The Boatman's Call would love the albums "New Mother" and "How I Loved You" by Angels of Light, since these contain similar great melodic ballads of gravity and solemnity.
Nick Cave's 1997 album The Boatman's Call is a great demonstration of this outstanding lyricist and tunesmith's ability to tone down his music and reveal his more subtle and romantic side, containing as it does an outstanding set of sublimely melodic ballads, underpinned by another set of Cave's uniquely poetic (albeit, in the main, downbeat) lyrics. For every hard rocking From Here To Eternity, Get Ready For Love and Babe I'm On Fire (or, indeed, almost anything by his Grinderman incarnation), Cave had already given us ample evidence with songs such The Ship Song and The Weeping Song, that this man was a superb balladeer, and The Boatman's Call further develops this facet of Cave's work and acts as a pointer to his follow-up album, the masterpiece No More Shall We Part.
First up is the deceptively positive, and simply melodic Into My Arms, a relatively harmless little song, but still infused with Cave's trademark religious imagery (and containing one of the album's greatest lyrics in its opening line, 'I don't believe in an interventionist God, but I know darling that you do'). Indeed, although the album is full of Cave's moody, often semi-spoken vocals, and some superbly doom-laden backing from The Bad Seeds, particularly from Warren Ellis on violin and piano accordion, a number of the songs are (at least on the surface) rather upliftingly romantic. This is true of the beautiful Lime-Tree Arbour (whose lyrics give the album its title), There Is A Kingdom, the outstandingly soulful (Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For? and (for me, along with Green Eyes, the only below par song on the album) Brompton Oratory, whose Casio accompaniment by Cave is just too reminiscent of those rare childhood (and adult wedding) visits to church.
For me, though, eternal pessimist that I obviously am, it is on the more downbeat songs that Cave really excels here. The superb People Ain't No Good could initially be interpreted as a typical witty and cynical Cave rant, although, given his recent divorce which occurred at around the time of the album, lyrics like, 'To our love send a coffin of wood', are probably directed at his ex-wife. Similarly, the sublimely melancholic Where Do We Go But Nowhere? covers the same theme and is peppered with great lyrics ('The kitten that padded and purred on my lap, now swipes at my face with the paw of a bear'). Two of the album's outstanding (and somewhat atypical) songs, for me, are West Country Girl, a short but brilliantly pulsating tune (underpinned by Warren Ellis' superb violin) - setting the tone for some of the longer songs on the No More Shall We Part album - and Black Hair, which opens with Ellis' accordion sounding like David Bowie's Memory Of A Free Festival, and which is an outstanding dirge (surprisingly this is possible). Both these songs, incidentally, are reputed to be about ex-Cave flame P J Harvey. A final word on the brilliant Idiot Prayer, Cave's ultimate word on death and the afterlife, during which he questions whether his destination will be heaven or hell in another lyrical tour-de-force.
All in all, some of Cave's strongest songwriting and an essential album.
St Nick casts his net and trawls the depths of the oceanic emotional under currents to bring to the surface those fragments normally kept hidden, jumping alive in his twilight world.
Demanding; happens when a relationship based on trust unravels and dissolves before you, whilst you feel helpless to put on the hand brake.
A number of choices from memory; firstly trip to the off licence or pub to drown in alcohol. Second; an active social life and wait for the rebound. Third; immersion in work, hobbies or in this particular case, religion to channel the frothing energy. Fourthly; lie in bed with the covers pulled tight, whiling away time through sleep.
Nick takes elements of each to create a different tack, he articulates an emotional chasm and then uses the negativity to create a soul poetry, built upon the solid foundations of pure distilled misery.
Operating the sheep dogs of his psyche, he has coralled his wandering emotions to make this statement of energetic release. An artist in a unique position, wading through the debris of the 70's and 80's without ever surrendering artistic integrity. All undertaken traversing his personal mire to arrive at his sleek custom lowbrow, carny, geek freak island, turning in the sun whilst at the same time jumping into the murky pond of despair. "Come on it!" he screams.
Populated by memories and actualities of refuseniks, kindly ushered from polite society; service provided by the bearded lady, drinks poured by the midget, security by the elephant man, whilst the twisted limbs of a contorted Nick reads poetry to packed silent rooms. All operating upon a lonely frontier.
As time recedes from the 80's , he is one constant thread to cling to, a marker to remember when something happened that was wholesome. His songs connect to the eeriness of the universe as short wave crackle emittng a strange funereal party at the end of radio dial.
So enter his post love album. Nick connects electric to emotions swept to one side by polite glazed look society. His form of loss shifts from murderous to melancholy. Even when he is loving he recounts bitterness Catherine Cookson and Georgette Heyer singer songwriters would lock discretely away in a sugary tower. The listener would never penetrate their emotional thick concrete walls, coated in cloying layers of syrup and sacharine.
Nick ascends because he picks the lock to the abyss within, and lets the "monster" into the daylight. On this album he not only allows the "beast" to bask but provides food, water and tenderness. "Into my arms," "Lime Tree Arbour," "People ain't no good" are crooned over brooding piano accompaniment to summon his beasts. "Brompton Oratory," a slight change of uplifting direction. All songs having memory barbs sharpened within their hooks, bringing the listener back with a jolt as singer songwriter compositions depict a bleak emotional stillness.
Anyone who is disturbed is entitled.It may not be the album itself, but what it represents as it invokes its desolate magic.
on 16 October 2009
I imagine that it is easy for fans to rave about their favourite artists and give 5 star reviews to their favourite albums. However, no matter how level headed and critical you are, on hearing this album you are compelled to admit that this is not only Nick Cave's best album, but also one of the best collections of original songs in the last 50 years. To achieve such a feat you have two strategies: either try to create an album that attempts to do absolutely everything or create one which does a few things very, very well. The Boatman's Call is an example of the latter.
The key themes that link all the songs are love, loss, despair and recrimination. All the best albums tread on similar ground - for example Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" or Joni Mitchell's "Blue". It is no exaggeration that Cave has produced an album of equal stature to those two classics.
This is a deeply personal album meditating on a number of failed relationships in his own life, but these concerns are ultimately universal and touch everyone. The pace of the album is, for the most part, funereal and slow and the production is tastefully stripped down. Piano, acoustic guitar, violin and Cave's baritone dominate most of the tracks. The album slowly draws you in and repeated listenings yield rich rewards, like re-reading a difficult and complex novel. This album requires a little patience at first. When you're used to eating at McDonald's you might crave more salt or sugar when you finally get to dine at a Michelin star restaurant. But as your sensitivities are gradually reawakened you appreciate the skill of the chef and and the subtlety and simplicity of the flavours. That's what happens here. I could go through each track and describe its merits but there are no bad songs here. It's difficult to pick a best track because each song perfectly communicates the emotion (or lack of emotion) it is designed to express. If pushed I would say that for me "Lime Tree Arbour" is particularly sublime. Given that the best albums are all written from a dark place it is a shame that soon after this release, Cave married a model, produced a few more kids and seemed to start enjoying life again.
on 17 December 1999
Having always been a fan of Cavey's I wasn't too impressed with the notion of having to put up with what could almost be described as a middle-age-album. I coulnd't have been more wrong; in fact, I'd be happy to have Into my Arms played at my future child's christening. Nobody's Baby Now has become a firm staple among my female friends during the after-hours of a long night out. The whole album has a quiet and pensive feel about it, with the Seeds deliberately supporting from far away in the aisles and well it works, too. Absolutely worth every penny of the price; fantastic lyrical combinations together with low, strumming, quietly present evil in some cases. Perfect to finish off a night out with that special geezer..Nick Cave has definitely become the Master of Lovesong.
on 11 January 2008
I'm not going to bore you with a sophisticated coffee table critique that actually says little and bores you to tears. But I would say that if you are in to music with a realistic edge, with a tune, but a dark slant on the human physche, then this album's a must. I think it's superb.
on 3 April 2000
This album is absolutely amazing. Beautiful, heartbreaking songs that leave you haunted with the fact that there can be so much pain derived from love affairs. Very depressing! Nick Cave lays his soul totally bare... Standout tracks for me are Far From Me and Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere.