Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Reflecting on the 25th Anniversary of “The Boatman’s Call” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Reflecting on the 25th Anniversary of “The Boatman’s Call”

The Album First Came Out on March 3, 1997

Mar 03, 2022
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Recovering from the blood-spattered mania of 1996’s brilliant Murder Ballads, iconic Austrailian singer/songwriter Nick Cave regathered with The Bad Seeds for their 10th studio outing—a sudden shift in direction from the group’s signature blend of gritty post punk and art rock experimentation. Indeed, 1997’s rainswept The Boatman’s Call found Cave in a far more tranquil, even tender mood, the album displaying with prominence the musician’s penchant for romantic poetry and lovelorn balladry. Throughout its shadowy expanse, The Boatman’s Call finds the ever-seeking Cave out of character and contemplating the greater questions—those of destiny and romance. Though the band is omnipresent, the album resembles a far more restrained and intimate affair, Cave delivering, in his inimitably commanding vampiric baritone, confessional lines of lyrical honesty and contemplation. The Boatman’s Call remains especially significant in this sense, as it proved to popular audiences that the so often unpredictable Cave was capable of dressing down and settling in—a feat not always achieved by such innovators of his depth.

Opening song “Into My Arms,” perhaps the album’s most recognizable track, sees Cave coming on strongly, confessing, in what is perhaps one of the greatest opening lines of any song, “I don’t believe in an interventionist God/But I know, darling, that you do.” Here, the object of Cave’s desire has placed him in a tough spot as he contemplates the prospectively benevolent properties of the divine against a lovely piano melody. In its time, “Into My Arms” marked a lyrical breakthrough for Cave, showcasing the development of a firm relatability within his words. Subsequently, the jazzy ether of “Lime Tree Arbour” depicts in atmosphere for the listener the warm place of romance shared by Cave and his other, along with the safety and contentment experienced therein. This remains one of Cave’s most underrated tracks, its literary sense of hot passion on high, nestled within one silken moment of personal history, as penetrating today as it was a quarter-century ago. In contrast, the downtrodden “People Ain’t No Good” rides a heavier mood, Cave’s murk thickening as he offers such quintessential lines as, “To our love send back all the letters/To our love a valentine of blood,” all the while casting his sympathetic lover’s gaze across the scene.

Other high points include the overtly experimental “Brompton Oratory,” which feels something like a precursor to the still-distant Push the Sky Away and Skeleton Tree, and bewitching ’90s gothic “(Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?” Meanwhile, the menacing folk of “West Country Girl”—courtesy largely of Warren Ellis’ eerie looped violin—sets itself far apart from the album’s remainder. Cave sings some of the album’s finest lines here, describing a lover who strongly resembles his musical peer and ex-girlfriend PJ Harvey—to whom much of the album is said to be addressed—his poetry simultaneously forward and cryptic, with the track sounding more akin to his previous triumphs Henry’s Dream and Murder Ballads. The funerary “Black Hair” and closing “Green Eyes” pair well, both aching snapshots of Cave’s romantic past, reminding the listener that the musician hesitates not to reach beyond the boundaries of modern pop music as we comprehend it.

Consistently ranked among Cave’s key releases, The Boatman’s Call remains an effective artistic statement, still providing an ideal soundtrack for any misty spring afternoon beneath greyest skies. Cave has remained fairly strong in his output, but The Boatman’s Call represented an end to the “classic” chapter of the musician’s career, a creative peak he would not reach again until 2004’s Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus.

There is a timelessness to The Boatman’s Call, a quality of widespread appeal rendering it perpetually enjoyable. Its sensibilities are both progressive and antiquated, its imagery as rosy as it is bleak, skies inhabited by the very gods it conjures, rolling clouds dotted with sacred cities, since abandoned. One could expect nothing less of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds in top form.

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