Friday, 13 May 2016

50 albums to take to my grave #36: Henry's Dream

As I said a couple of weeks ago, it was never 'is Nick Cave going be on this list', it was only ever 'which one?' This was tough. MrsRobster was never a Nick Cave fan, but she fell for 'Abattoir Blues' and reckons I should have chosen that. It was in the running for a while, as was 'Murder Ballads', 'Push The Sky Away', 'Dig! Lazarus, Dig!!!' and the first Grinderman album, and I spent a week re-evaluating all those on my final shortlist. But one evening, it was the turn of 'Henry's Dream' and it was pretty much cut and dried from that moment.

It was the seventh Bad Seeds offering and was by far their best to date. Why? The stories, man, the stories. Just listen to them. Nick had been developing into a brilliant storyteller over the previous few albums, but the songs on 'Henry's Dream' raised the bar to an almost unbeatable high. Papa Won't Leave You, Henry sees our hero thrust into the dark, debauched, undesirable underbelly of society; Brother My Cup Is Empty tells of a man's sorrow at the breakup of his marriage; John Finn's Wife is a classic Cave murder ballad; and When I First Came To Town is perhaps the saddest tale of all, how a town shuns the protagonist for reasons he seems unaware of - but he is plotting his revenge.

The stories. And their delivery. The zest and the vigour; the ferocity and the terror; the fear and the rage. The art of great storytelling is the delivery, to be able to set the moods and take your audience with you on the journey. The ups, the downs and the twists. This is where the Bad Seeds come in. Sure, Nick is the master of vocal drama, but the band knows how to carry it. It's worth mentioning that to many, this is arguably the best Bad Seeds line-up: Harvey, Bargeld, Casey, Savage and Wydler all flawless in their portrayal of Cave's characters and settings.

Perhaps, more than any of his other albums, you can tell Nick is rooted in the traditions of the blues. Stories are at the heart of every great blues song, and the best ones aren't pretty. On Jack The Ripper, we get perhaps Cave's best example of his blues influence. It's a basic 12-bar structure and it's sung from the point of view of a downtrodden man at the hands of his beloved:

 "I've got a woman / She rules my house with an iron fist
 I've got a woman / She rules my house with an iron fist
 She screams out 'JACK THE RIPPER!'
 Every time I try to give that girl a kiss."

And let's not forget Nick's other great strength - the love song. Straight To You is one of his best, telling how love and devotion wins in the face of adversity; and Loom Of The Land sees Nick and 'Sally' walking in an unusually (in Nick's world) pleasant and peaceful place where for once, all seems right with the world:

 "And I saw that the world was all blessed and bright
 And Sally breathed softly in the majestic night."

'Henry's Dream' is a masterclass of songwriting and narration. It captures perfectly the places Nick takes us to, the characters he introduces us to and the things that happen there. It's often foreboding, at times terrifying, but I can't help but think with Nick Cave by our side we'll be fine.



  1. An excellent read Robster to go with the excellent songs.The Walkabouts do a great cover of Loom of the Land on their Satisfied Mind album

  2. I thought at the time this was his greatest album....but then he followed it up with 'Let Love In' which to me just shades it.

    My favourite take of JtR is the acoustic version that came with the b-side and rarities box set (the contents of which will one day form an ICA Vol 3 over at my place).