The Bad Seeds' debut album was recorded soon after the breakup of Cave's previous group, The Birthday Party and you can definitely hear the influence of that band in this album. From Her To Eternity sounds so much different than any other Bad Seeds album, you can hear all of the menace and chaos that only The Birthday Party are capable of. At the same time though, this record really signals the blues-ward direction that the Cave and Harvey were moving to toward the end of The Birthday Party and would more fully be explored on the next two albums.
The albums opens with a cover, Leonard Cohen's "Avalanche". Instrumentally, the song is best described as sparse, with just some occasional piano, drums and bass and some organ hidden in the background, along with some creepy sounds from Blixa's guitar. This song is all about Nick's voice. In the original, Cohen sings with a sort of detached, apathetic voice, but here Nick does much more credit to Cohen's lyrics. Through all of his grunts and moans, Cave sounds so desperate, he sings almost as if he's pleading or begging. The whole album and this song especially makes you feel anxious and nervous.
Avalanche is followed by "Cabin Fever!". It's as upbeat as the previous song isn't. The highlight here is Blixa's guitar playing, it doesn't even sound like a guitar, more like a truck being ripped in half and it really adds to the menacing sound of the album, this song especially. And Cave's vocals are really great here too, with all of the screeching and grunting, I wouldn't be surprised if his throat bled from recording this.
Next is "Well of Misery", another sparse number that has a very bluesy feel. The only percussion here is what sounds like some heavy falling, along with some vibes by Mick Harvey. There's also some kind of ripping sound. Something has to be said about the lyrics here, which are some of my favorite:
"Put ya shoulder to the handle, if ya dare
and hoist that bucket, hither
Crank'n'hoist an' hoist'n'crank
Till ya muscles waste an' wither
Oh the same God that abandon'd her
Has in turn abandon'd me
Deep in the desert of despair
I wait at the well of misery"
Right in the middle is the title song and best on the album. "From Her To Eternity" takes every good thing about the album and amplifies it. It starts off with this foreboding piano riff that sounds like it's building up to something big. Pretty soon Blixa's guitar comes in, similar to the guitar from "Cabin Fever!"... that truck-being-ripped-in-half sound. There's also a very haunting keyboard sound that sounds like a ghost crying.
The next three songs were recorded months before the rest of the album and you can tell. It has much more of that bluesy feel, and "Saint Huck" sounds as if it could have been written by an earlier bluesman with lyrics like:
"Straight in the arms of the city goes Huck,
down the beckoning streets of op-po-tunity
whistling his favorite river-song...
And a bad-blind-****** at the piano
Buts a sinister-bloo-lilt to that sing-a-long
Huck senses somthing's wrong!"
And I'm pretty sure the song is some kind black humor retelling "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"
"Wings Off Flies" is another sparse blues song a la "Well of Misery". There's some light instrumentation and funny lyrics from Cave who starts the song counting "...she loves, she loves me not". Peeling wings off flies, you know it doesn't well for the singer!
The album closes with one of my favorites. "A Box For Black Paul" is just Cave singing with some moody piano playing. The song is a sort of eulogy to The Birthday Party, the first letters of Black Paul matching theirs. He asks just who will build the coffin for Black Paul and is turned down by everyone:
"Who'll build a box for Black Paul?
I'm enquirin on behalf of his soul
Ah'd be beholdin to ya all
For a lil information, yes some kinda information
Just who'll dig the hole?
When ya done ransackin his room
grabbin anything that shines,
throw the scrap down on the street
Like all his books and his notes.
All the junk that he wrote"
And here, he calls out the critics, whom he blamed for not understanding The Birthday Party:
"Don't ask us, say the critics and the hacks
The pen-pushers and the quacks
We just come to get the facts
we just come to get the facts"
The song goes on for about ten minutes and may be too boring for some, but I can never get enough. And on the note the album ends, as quietly as it began. Even for many Bad Seeds fans, "From Her to Eternity" may be hard to get into and honestly took me a few years to finally fall in love with, especially with "A Box For Black Paul" which was a definite grower for me. The songs don't jump out at you like you'll find on later albums but if you're patient, you will be rewarded with one of their most interesting albums that can only be matched in intensity by "Tender Prey".