1988 – Mute
Nick Cave’s fifth studio album since forming the Bad Seeds is a tour de force of growling post-punk darkness. Kicking off with the poundingly evil drone of The Mercy Seat and not backing down on any of its antagonistic fronts from that point this album just delivers punch after punch of highly honed chaos and nightmare noise.
There’s just so much raw sound on this record for a listener to deal with that it becomes incredibly fascinating to draw out the threads of music that hide behind the wall of white-wash aural insanity. This is not to say, however, that Tender Prey is little more than a blaring sound machine. Quite the contrary in fact; Flood’s interesting production style on this album somehow creates an eerie amount of dead space in between each not while maintaining the wild frenetics of the sound. Tracks like Up Jumped The Devil and City Of Refuge, for example, are dripping with eerie space which allows them to conjure up their dark imagery with ease.
Production style and aural aesthetics, however, aren’t the main driving force behind this wonderful record as incredible as they are. No, it’s the solid songwriting and carefully crafted neo-gothic poetry that make Tender Prey the post-punk masterpiece that it is. Cave’s deep bellow of a voice switch carelessly between frantic shouts, growling evil, and pained lovelorn howls evoking all manner of psychotic tendencies and underlying pathos, and Harvey and Bargeld’s guitar lines drive each track relentlessly forward with their scratchy jangles and echo laden dins. I mean, these guys even manage to make the doo-wop tune Deanna into some kind of Shakespearian cabaret through their theatrically flailing performances.
I think, however, one of the main things that makes this record stand out in particular against their back-catalogue of post-punk frenzy is the fact that with Tender Prey the Bad Seeds have finally managed to combine their Iggy Pop punk sensibilities with their Johnny Cash folk musings in a way that actually makes sense. I mean, 1986’s tragic cover record “Kicking Against The Pricks” tried so hard to live up to the sounds of their idols that it failed to really do either, but with this record they seem to have finally figured out how to wrangle to two genres similarities into some kind of workable unison.
It also helps that Cave seems to have found his own voice on this record, rather than reiterating his pale imitations of various blues and country singers. There is a surprising undertone of sincerity in all of his vocals on this record that really can’t be heard on the previous release. I mean, The Birthday Party was certainly full of pathos and power, but it was always hard to believe that Cave was doing anything more than a mere performance of some manic punk character. Of course, Tender Prey doesn’t reach the stark openness of something like The Boatman’s Call, but at least he seems to have found a way to meld his manifold characters into his own troubled personality so as to make the two qualities almost indistinguishable.
So, in summation, I would say that Tender Prey is a brilliant record. It is definitely one of the highlights of Cave’s early career (still a standout when his whole oeuvre is taken into consideration) and also one of the highlights of the whole post-punk ere. I mean, this kind of thoughtfulness and clarity is far beyond anything that bands like Bauhaus or The Cure were producing at the same time, and Cave’s music is certainly less mopy, which is always nice.
- An Eye For An Eye: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Tender Prey Revisited (thequietus.com)
- Review: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds @ Hammersmith Apollo 28/10/2013 (tenderlentil.wordpress.com)
- The Boatman’s Call – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Hammersmith Apollo – music review (standard.co.uk)
- ALBUM REVIEW | ‘Push The Sky Away’ by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (deadbeatwriter.wordpress.com)
- Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds Live Album Coming (noise11.com)
- Searching For The Cave Man: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Live (thequietus.com)
- Bobbing at the top of the waters of the LETHE. Review of Push the Sky Away ~Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (hudleyflipside.org)
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds to release vinyl LP “Live From KCRW” earlier than other formats for record store day (Nov 29th) (liveforvinyl.wordpress.com)