Born out of the ashes of seminal Australian post-punk group The Birthday Party, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds was formed around 1983 with its remnants in singer Nick Cave & guitarist Mick Harvey, teaming up with former Magazine bassist Barry Adamson, renowned multi-instrumentalist Hugo Race and Blixa Bargeld, frontman of the already well established German avant-garde industrial music act Einstürzende Neubauten. With this line-up The Seeds showed enormous potential from the beginning, and on 1984 debut album From Her to Eternity
released a rough, but otherwise well written partially schizophrenic, mostly somber post-punk affair with more then a tip to the hap of the folk lyrical styles of songsmiths such as Leonard Cohen (going so far as to cover Avalanche
from Songs of Love and Hate
) whilst maintaining Cave's gloomy, tongue-in-cheek vocal style and image which characterised the intense days of The Birthday Party and the "goth-rock" tag often attributed to them.
From Her to Eternity
and much of the groups early catalogue feels like an extension of those days somewhat, just with different personnel and a new approach that was becoming evident on The Firstborn Is Dead
, the groups second album. Whereas a number of post-punk/new wave groups died as the middle and end section of the 80's approached (Orange Juice, The Psychedelic Furs, Section 25) or modified themselves to embrace new technologies after nobody cared anymore (New Order, Clock DVA) here The Bad Seeds dug up something more akin to a bluesy, raw folk whilst touching on lyrical themes inspired by Cave's obsessions with the American South and Southern Gothic literature. Filtered through a morose post-punk aesthetic, these influences over the The Firstborn Is Dead
make it one of the most unique albums in the groups discography as they are yet to refine their sound further but are completely passionate in producing a very dark, raw, but ultimately restrained and worthwhile songwriting effort.
If there is one way to describe the general feel of the album, I would choose the word sparse. Opener Tupelo
is an exception to this rule, with it's repeated bassline hook, thundering drums and Cave's lyrics about a town under attack from extreme weather referencing both the birth of Elvis and the apocalypse it's appeal is undeniable, as is the stomping pace and "lasso riff" of sleeper classic Wanted Man
, a song expanded on by Cave which was originally composed by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Train-Long Suffering
follows a similar pace, but the bulk of the album feels more in step with Black Crow King
, Knockin' On Joe
, Blind Lemon Jefferson
and The Six Strings That Drew Blood
though which recall the feel of a stoned bluesman off drifting, plucking a few strings along the way.
Black Crow King
has an unusual psychedelic blues vibe to it with its effect drenched guitar and Cave's lyrics sung over the top (I am the black crow king/Keeper of the nodding corn/Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!/All the hammers are a-talking/All the nails are a-singing/So sweet and low
), whilst the piano led Knockin' On Joe
is a strong contender for one of the best Cave ballads ever written (These chains of sorrow, they are heavy, it is true/And these locks cannot be broken, no, not with one thousand keys/O Preacher, come closer, you don't scare me anymore/Just tell Nancy not to come here/Just tell her not to come here anymore/Tell Nancy not to come
). Say Goodbye To The Little Girl Tree
is one of the best cuts here, with its plucked blues riffs it builds an unusual set of dynamics that is difficult to describe but thrilling all the same with some of my favourite lyrics present (This wall I built around you/Is made out of stone-lies/O little girl the truth would be/An axe in thee./O father look to your daughter/Brick of grief and stricken morter./With this ring/This silver hoop of wire/I bind your maiden mainstream/Just to keep you as a child
The Firstborn Is Dead
is not always described as an essential recording for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and indeed later albums such as The Good Son
, Let Love In
and The Boatman's Call
demonstrate a much higher standard of songwriting that sees the group maturing somewhat, losing their angsty post-punk edge and settling more into the shoes of contemporary adult rock. Still, the early days of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds had a raw outburst of energy that will never be captured again, the bluesy folk edge of The Firstborn Is Dead
lending something very appealing to this classic post-punk release.