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.
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.
on 11 July 2006
This was the first Nick Cave album I properly listened to. I picked it up after seeing it listed on someone's top 100 albums list elsewhere on the web. I thought I'd give it a try and was suitably very, very impressed. This was Cave and the Bad Seeds' 10th studio album. At that stage of most bands' careers all the inspiration is gone and those that carry on just put out the same old stuff again and again (or inferior material). Not Cave though. 'The Boatman's Call' is a heartfelt exploration of Cave's recently ended relationships. It is extremely personal, so much so that Cave himself has said that he regretted this. However, the product of all that soul-searching is a beautifully dark but heartfelt work of genius. From the opener 'Into my Arms' to the final track 'Green Eyes' there is not a bad track on this album. Its highlights are the two tracks puportedly about Cave's relationship with PJ Harvey ('West Country Girl' and the haunting 'Black Hair') but it also includes a track lifted for use in Shrek 2 that some people might be more familiar with 'People Ain't No Good'. All of the album is played in the same minimalist style putting Cave's voice and words centre stage. One word of advice - don't play it around the kids when you first put it on as like some of Nick Cave's other works there is liberal use of the F word. Highly recommended. (10/10) Flawless
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.
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.
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.
on 11 November 2004
This is possibly the best recent Nick Cave and the BS album. It is an intimate and extremely personal album about a very troubled time in Nick Cave's life. His split with his long term partner, his affairs with various pop stars etc are all chronicled here and some songs are heart wrenchingly sad. There are no exceptions to this album. All songs are as good as each other.
Nick Cave has denouced this album recently as being too personal. I agree with him that it is, but this is of no detrement to the album. In fact, he has made some of the greatest love songs. This was a true turning point for his music in my opinion created through a need to output his feelings through music.