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.
Nick Cave's 1997 album 'The Boatman's Call' remains my favourite work in his distinguished oeuvre. It contains two of the most beautiful songs he has written : the sublime opening number 'Into Your Arms' and the achingly tender '(Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?' Darkness and light in perfect equilibrium.
A album about the despair of breaking up, this album is one that suits a certain mood, at 48 years old I found myself in similar situation. These arms of mine a beautiful song but when you feel the same way it's very cloying. Maybe when my personal sadness goes, I may hear it in a different way.
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.
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.
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.
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.