Review Summary: Not a classic Cave and The Bad Seeds output but an essential and imperative point in their long career.
Usually cover albums should be avoided. Whether it's Garage inc
, Acid Eaters
, or the infamous Punk Goes
... series, more often than not a full album of covers is a pretty bad idea. It is difficult to pull off someone else's original idea better than them. At some point when digesting any particular cover a not too unreasonable question creeps into your brain. Why would I listen to this when I can hear the original?
So when The Bad Seeds released an album of pop tunes, country ballads, and folk classics in 1986 I am sure there was a lot of groans and moans. After all, not only was it some heroin-addicted freakazoid vampire butchering these American classics, but they were done by an Australian! Surely Cave would piss off all the fans of the original composers... but wouldn't his own audience not be very pleased with this choice? Like, who is this for?
The goth king covering Tom Jones is a weird image let alone sound. This is at times cringe-worthy, both in song selection and execution. No one can deny that it is pretty questionable covering “Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart”. I’m not too sure what to think. However, I do think considering the album in full that there is a lot of material that satisfies both camps. Fans of the original could maybe appreciate the faithful but new take, and fans of Cave who may be unfamiliar with these old songs might like it because it’s fucking Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Maybe this album got a punk into country artists. Probably not. But maybe.
I'll admit that some songs and ideas work better than others. "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" is a little too dramatic for its own good. But opener “Muddy Waters” is a moody masterpiece. The minimally plucked guitar add much to the feeling by not overdoing and riding the rhythm. “Sleeping Annaleah” also succeeds (mostly due to the strength of the strings) with its major to minor chords shifting with the words. “Yesterday the sun was shining but you find it don’t shine all the time.” As the music drifts from being uplifting and smiling to fairly ominous and moving. Then a disjointed 3/4 beat in between the verses.
“Long Black Veil” is a goddamn winner. Simple as fuck but effective. Such a peculiarly addicting chorus. There are a few times when Cave may even surpass the original compositions like how “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is some sort a drunken singalong party tune... if you were also tripping balls. And you can’t really go wrong with a song like “Jesus Met The Woman At The Well.” Songs that are historically and culturally catchy as fuck.
The musicianship on here is not necessarily here to show off. It’s mostly reserved minus some truly cacophonous moments. There aren’t any blistering solos (but then again most Bad Seeds material doesn’t have that to begin with) but everything is very tight and precise. Occasionally the band does let loose and it is always a welcome occurrence.
What makes this album important is the sort of stepping stone moment it turns out to be in the bands career. If you look at what came before... and what came after... it’s a pretty big difference. I think they learned a lot from this album. They got better at meshing the whole weird-creaking-experimental-blues with a tortured singer thing down. If you are a fan of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds it is a good idea to listen to this record. Not only is it interesting to listen to the progression of the band, but a lot of the songs are excellently interpreted.