Another list: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ten of their best


There’s been a lot of Nick Cave these last few weeks. But it can’t be helped – less than a week ago he released what might be the greatest album of his career. I can’t get it out of my mind, nor him. So what follows is me trying to gather my thoughts around Nick Cave and the songs that mean the most to me.

10. Knockin’ On Joe

Year: 1985

Album: The Firstborn is Dead

– In a prison in the deep South, in a dark cell buried deep down in Death Row, there’s a convict and he’s singing the blues. He’s about to be executed, but that’s not what’s bringing him down. Nor is it his loss of freedom. Oh, no. He’s tough. He’s stoic about the whole thing. He tells the bitter jailor to lay his burden on him, he defiantly tells the warden that his fists can’t hurt him anymore, not even the preacher with his words of hell and brimstone scares him now. No, what’s making him howl his blues into the night is the loss of his woman. Nancy. These chains of sorrow, they are heavy, it is true And these locks cannot be broken, no, not with one thousand keys. He tells the preacher not to bring Nancy around. He doesn’t want her to see him like this. Tell Nancy not to come And let me die in the memory of her arms.

This is Nick Cave sort of inventing the Southern Gothic genre. Captivating stuff indeed.

9. Jesus Alone

Year: 2016

Album: Skeleton Tree

– It’s a matter of timing. Further on up the road more songs from Skeleton Tree will pop up on lists like this, and possibly higher up. I wrote a piece about this song a week ago. Check it out.

8. Slowly Goes the Night

Year: 1988

Album: Tender Prey

– Could very well deserve a higher position, but let’s not bicker.

This is another song about loss. Here the protagonist is really down in the dumps. Way, way down. He treated his girl a bit so-so and is now sitting crying into his beer for ten lonely days, ten lonely nights. He touches the spot in the bed where she slept, treating it like a monument, he hangs his head in shame blaming himself for not seeing the warning signs – all while the moon outside is being flayed and both night and day gets darker and darker.

He writhes in bed, tosses, sweats, yet still comes to the conclusion that it’s probably going to turn out alright in the end, for both of them – even though he is the one who’s going to do all the crying first.

7. Brompton Oratory

Year: 1997

Album: The Boatman’s Call

– Here the downtrodden protagonist hangs out at a church (guess which one!). His heart is heavy – so heavy, in fact, that he contemplates the idea of being made of stone, just like the statues of the Apostles at the church, so that he wouldn’t have to endure the impossible beauty of the one who got away.

He then exits the church, sits exhausted on the steps outside and conclude that neither God nor Satan could come close in bringing him down to his knees the way that she has done.

Gorgeous stuff from a gorgeous album.

6. Mercy

Year: 1988

Album: Tender Prey

– The leader has lost his followers. He is thrown into a dungeon, fed only bread and water, and with nothing but his faith as his weapon of protection. His life is under constant threat – so constant, even, that it actually bores him. Another example of the stoic Nick Cave character, standing with both fists clenched while life is falling apart all around him. Yet…he cries for mercy.

5. Stranger than Kindness

Year: 1986

Album: Your Funeral…My Trial

– In Nick Cave’s songs it is not unusual that kindness is a rare trait. You’re more likely to find godlessness, death, mayhem, rape, loneliness and heartbreak than pure kindness. Here he acknowledge the apartness of kindness, and at the same time declaring himself a stranger to kindness.

The lyrics are, to me, a fractured, yet beautiful, mess. There’s no clear narrative. Disturbing images following disturbing images.

A strange lit stair
And find a rope hanging there
Stranger than kindness

Keys rain like heaven’s hair
There is no home there is no bread
We sit at the gate and scratch
The gaunt fruit of passion
Dies in the light
Stranger than kindness

You hold me so carelessly close
Tell me I’m dirty
Stranger than kindness

4. Your Funeral…My Trial

Year: 1986

Album: Your Funeral…My Trial

– A crooked man walking a crooked mile, while his crooked conscience plays tricks on him. And night is engulfing him, taking over everything, becoming a threat, a fang. His woman is a crooked bitch, a monger of pain, but he can’t shake her. He has to face her and whatever consequence it may entail.

This is Nick at perhaps his most haunted.

3. Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere?

Year: 1997

Album: The Boatman’s Call

– Nick has written many songs about lost love and love falling apart, and many of them can be found on Boatman’s Call, but none of them hits harder than this one.

This song depicts a man thinking back on what he had, what he lost and how it all came to be. He remembers the good times; intimate moments in hotel rooms when their love dissolved time. But mostly he remembers the not-so-great moments. Razor sharp images culled straight from dreary everyday life: having tea and biscuits on a park bench, with nothing to talk about, and with the Serenity Prayer ringing in his head (which says it all, really). Then there’s the scene where they aimlessly and listlessly goes round and around a duckpond. Going nowhere.

Gloomily and mournfully we go round again
And one more doomed time and without much hope
Going round and around to nowhere

He later on remembers a time when there still was hope and he wants to relive it. Back then no one knew the way things would turn out. Back then this was inconceivable.  But…all that you love you lose. Even the things you thought you never ever could lose. Things that you were supposed to carry with you till the day that your final breath leaves your body. And when you’ve lost the most important thing in your life you’ll most likely spend the rest of your days going round and around to nowhere.

2. A Box for Black Paul

Year: 1984

Album: From Her to Eternity

– One of the greatest songs about death I have ever heard. Death, betrayal in death, distrust, getting no redress. The complete opposite of…

1. Push the Sky Away

Year: 2013

Album: Push the Sky Away

– …this one. This is Nick at his most comforting. This song is pure comfort. Love. This song tells us that it’s alright to feel whatever it is that we might feel, that we’re right, and at the same time that we shouldn’t give in to whatever negative element that is trying to get a hold of us.

The music is atmospheric. It’s melancholic without being maudlin. It shimmers and floats without friction and is a perfect match for the lyrics.This is the song I can put on at any given moment without it losing any of its power. It gets you right down to your soul. 


Buy Nick’s albums from Amazon, Nick’s webpage Ginza, or listen to them on Spotify

The photo is retrieved from Stereogum.


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