Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

The Good Son(Mute 1990)

I may be in the minority, but I never really bought Nick Cave as a primal, misanthropic entity attuned to the darkest impulses of mankind. Outside of the “Mercy Seat” which still gives me fucking chills, his solo work seemed most poetic when he spun heartfelt yarns about love and its inevitable absence. Sure. the Birthday Party were a singleminded bunch whose music was honestly unsettling and full of the kind of aggression that made you question whether it was mere persona or psychopath. However, he wisely chose a gentler vocabulary and pursued a subtler, but no less effective form of drama. Yeah, he occasionally fostered the occasional shitstorm worthy of the Birthday Party, but he really found his voice interpreting the songs of his heroes on Kicking at the Pricks. Now, that album really grabbed me because I never really saw him as much more than an artist that one listened to when in a pissed, morbid or oddball mood but there are moments of pristine beauty on it as he does what few pull off, which is to make a well-known standard entirely your own. I dunno…there was something tender, yet antagonistic about his take on the familiar that made it seem new. Its followup. Tender Prey, was pretty impressive, but I wanted him to slow things down and take his time with a song, so his subsequent release, The Good Son, was music to these biased ears.

By no means do I recommend The Good Son as a classic or even an entirely successful album since a few songs delve into superficial schtick instead of bloody-hearted pleading and frayed nerves. It’s sometimes hard to embrace a Nick Cave album in its entirety because his embrace of gospel and R&B is kind of ham-fisted as most European efforts tend to play out in their lovable, but shallow manner. Man, that sounds a bit harsh, but if I want clapping and gospel sing-a-longs, there are so many better outlets than Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in this wonderful world.

However, my passion for The Good Son possibly revolves around one single song. I think “Ship Song” is so fucking eloquent and symbolic of the tricky nature of loving someone who may ultimately burn you to the ground. In some ways, it may be one of my favorite metaphors in some ways. He portrays himself as an island while his lover is a ship who burns all bridges down in order to get sole access to her muse. The whole song is about how a love seems perfect in theory, but is destined to fail by their own hands. It is an ode to passion and the infantile decisions it sometimes inspires, but is also a paean to how alive these impulses make us feel. It is self-destructive, utterly romantic and a reflection of past mistakes that could possibly be made right in future relationships. For these reasons, this song is pure perfection as parable and song because it is universal just like the beloved standards he took the time to cover. He finally nailed the perfect blend of schmaltz, empathy, pain and composition required of a song that will stand the test of time.

The rest of The Good Son is no slouch either. Most of it is kind of boozy and drunken in a peculiarly restrain manner. He pursues a lovelorn and regretful mood throughout the album and the result is a pervasive theme of poor decision making and its consequences. It doesn’t hurt that the instrumentation allows the Bad Seeds to explore a more lush side of their musicianship. It’s a gorgeous album with just the right amount of occasional ugliness to make you wince as you slug it all down your gullet.

Simon Fisher Turner/Derek Jarman-Blue (Mute/Nonesuch 1993)

Simon Fisher Turner’s soundtrack is a momentous one since it serves as an integral element of Derek Jarman’s twelfth and final film. The reason that the soundtrack is so essential to the film is that the entire movie consists of a flickering, amorphous blue screen accompanied by narration by three of his favorite actors: Nigel Terry, John Quentin and Tilda Swinton as well as his own commentary. Jarman’s flickering blue visuals were inspired by French painter Yves Klein and were meant to simulate his own blindness caused by an AIDS-related illness.

I witnessed a screening of Blue at International House in Philadelphia when it was originally released and it devastated me while opening my eyes to possibilities of the soundtrack. In my opinion, this film is impotent on your meager television, but must be seen on a large screen to appreciate the intricacies of the shifting blue canvas on which he documents his final days. It is meant to simulate what he saw as well as his final thoughts before he left this world. Blue is a meditation on death. Blue is a last will and testament of a brilliant filmmaker. Blue’s soundtrack is pretty much the entire movie if you can conjure up a faulty tv to replicate its shimmering decay.

Simon Fisher Turner contributes a suitably ambient soundtrack that adds to the surreal experience of listening to a man narrate his own death. He smartly includes snatches of Brian Eno, Momus, Coil, Satie, Durutti Column, Kate St. John amongst others. It all coalesces into a dream state where Jarman comes to peace with his condition and provides an angelic atmosphere for his eventual demise. It is heartbreaking stuff as well as a courageous statement in an age where many had little empathy for those suffering from HIV. A perfect soundtrack as well as a fitting farewell from a director who turned the lens onto himself.