1997 – Mute/ Reprise
Folk/ Rock/ Alternative
Australian dark folkster Nick Cave’s tenth studio album is a beautiful departure from his earlier post-punk work with The Bad Seeds taking his music in a much more subtle piano based direction, and, to my ears, this move is entirely successful. Beginning with the sublime tearjerker Into My Arms and not holding back on the melancholy sparseness one bit from this point The Boatman’s Call really is one of the masterpieces of Cave’s career and of Australian music in general.
The lyrics are thoughtfully crafted (a rarity in modern music) and the piano lines are so spacious and flooded with subtle emotional depth that it’s rather difficult not to get swept up in this collection of tales of love and sadness. I mean, the stark resignation of People Ain’t No Good and the bitter openness of Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere? are just so perfectly constructed to elicit a desperate physical response of abject hopelessness, and while this does not sound at all pleasurable it somehow is.
The record (luckily) is not all doom and gloom, however. With tracks like Brompton Oratory and (Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?, among others, tinging their depression with a sugary glisten of shining optimism. This, I think, is where the real beauty of this album lies; in its almost unique ability to make one simultaneously shed such bitter tears and ache with all their heart for the bright future. I would put it down to the frankness of Cave’s lyrics, the candidness of his voice, and the sublime construction of the musical lines, and I don’t think there’d be many out there who would disagree with this assessment, but I think another layer which adds to the complexity and depth of this album is its sheer unexpectedness of introspection.
I mean, The Bad Seeds up until this point had almost reached their boiling point of morbid theatricality with Murder Ballads and then along came The Boatman’s Call which strips everything back to the barest essentials of beat and melody and the void of Cave’s troubled soul. Gone are all the hellfire and brimstone sermons of ranted out from some distant pulpit, gone are the ironically distasteful daydreams of murderous intent, and they are replaced by the truths of loneliness, love, and despair. It is this dropping of Cave’s Shakespearean facade that makes these new tracks of quixotic bleeding so powerful and hard hitting.
All this praise aside, it is definitely not a record for all weathers. I mean, the heavy pall of darkness that covers each and every inch of this album is certain to cast a weary web over what might otherwise be a happy day, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as anything to throw on for a romantic date or classy dinner party. It really is an album best enjoyed in quiet and solitude to give the listener the time and focus to fully come to terms with all of the content on this record. That is not to say that it is overly complicated or inaccessible, but it is definitely layered and somewhat troubling to certain states of mind.
So all in all and after much thought and many listens I have come to the conclusion that Nick Cave’s confessional The Boatman’s Call is definitely one of the masterpieces of modern music. Everything on it is both individually beautiful and works to form a whole impressionistic landscape of poignant meaning. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I would have to say that it is a must have for any fan of Nick Cave, anyone who has even heard the name Nick Cave, and anyone who has not yet come into contact with the enigmatic poet’s music. Just get right out there now and buy the thing! You will not regret it.
And here is the wondrously melancholy dirge People Ain’t No Good.