the boatman’s call
China: 20 Years of The Boatman’s CallStandard
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call
Released March 3rd, 1997 on Mute Records
Nick Cave is easily one of the most enduring artists in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. In the 1980s he staked his name on crawling, disturbing post-punk that encapsulated the violence and Biblical darkness of a mythologized American South (this despite growing up in Australia and basing himself out of England). From 1994’s Let Love In onward, he tempered the abrasive potentials of his songs with a renewed focus on texture, including piano and gentler tempos. Despite this, both it and 1996’s classic Murder Ballads reveled in the darkness, spiking moody atmospheres with moments of bone-chilling terror and loud musical moments. The Boatman’s Call, then, is an anomaly in his catalog. Everything before and after is shot through with darkness, full of revenge, murder, and sinners in the hands of an angry God. While 2001’s …And No More Shall We Part continued on with the exploration of gentler tones, The Boatman’s Call is also a musing exploration of spirituality and love.
“I’ve felt you coming girl, as you drew near,” he sings on “Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?”, “I knew you’d find me, cause I longed you here.” This is a somewhat atypical Nick Cave lyric. Also atypical is “Just like a bird that sings up the sun / In a dawn so very dark / such is my faith for you,” the opening line from “There Is A Kingdom”, a song that feels as New Testament as Cave’s other work is Old Testament. “West Country Girl”, “Black Hair”, and “Into My Arms” are all about PJ Harvey, whom Cave dated briefly in the middle of the Nineties. “Into My Arms” was also performed at Michael Hutchence’s funeral (after Cave requested the cameras be shut off, so don’t go looking for footage). It’s also the wedding song of my wife and I; it was originally going to be “Have I Told You Lately” before we remembered that latter-day Rod Stewart sucks.
That said, there are a couple of songs on The Boatman’s Call which can be considered more standard fare for Nick Cave. “People Ain’t No Good” walks that careful line between love and death that is familiar for Cave fans (and also found it’s way into Shrek 2 somehow); “Lime Tree Arbour” straddles that same line, although in that case it’s love protecting Cave from death rather than the other way around. “Idiot Prayer” is also about dying, although there’s a firm sense of fatality that accompanies the line “If you’re in Hell, then what can I say / You probably deserved it anyway / I guess I’m gonna find out any day / For we’ll meet again / And there’ll be Hell to pay.” The real summation of the album – and perhaps Cave’s career as a whole – comes on the final song, “I Got You Bad”. “Babe I got you bad / Dreaming blood-wet dreams / Only madmen have / Baby I got you bad.”