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2023 Albums Thing #068 - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “The Boatmans Call”

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“The Boatman’s Call” was the follow up to “Murder Ballads” and you can easily detect the musical, if not lyrical, similarities between the two. But while “Murder Ballads” was a humorous romp “The Boatman’s Call” is a struggle with the death of love, wonderfully poetic but at times in language that is harsh and accusatory. The Bad Seeds are elegantly restrained throughout, holding back to allow Cave’s words the lead in this show. And what words to begin with 

I don’t believe in an interventionist god, But I know darling that you do

The table is set from the very start of “Into My Arms”. There’s a struggle going on between the singers needs and the needs of the object of the singers desire. No belief in God or angels but a belief they can guide his desire to him along with an absolute belief in love. It’s a hell of an opening statement.

“Lime Tree Arbour” continues in a similar vein but in “People Ain’t No Good” things start to crumble

To our love send a dozen white lilies, To our love send a coffin of wood

And in “Brompton Oratory” you’re not quite sure whether the love or the lover has passed on

Outside I sit on the stone steps with nothing much to do

Forlorn and exhausted, baby by the absence of you

And so it goes on, the singer struggling with his ideas of love and faith and how the two, one of which he believes in the other he seemingly doesn’t, reconcile with each other.

Side 1 ends with my very favourite of Nick Cave’s songs, the utterly beautiful “(Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?”. I will argue long and convincingly with anyone that it is the most devastating love song ever written and on the surface that’s exactly what it is, a love song, a testimonial from a lover to the object of his desire who he has been separated from or is awaiting their arrival. Cave had been in a relationship with PJ Harvey and their breakup is the main subject matter of “The Boatman’s Call” and “(Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?” says everything about being hopelessly in love. But…

Cave had been in and out of another relationship for many years, with drugs. He has said that when Harvey broke up with him "I was so surprised I almost dropped my syringe" ! A read through the lyrics of “(Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?” could bring you to the realisation that the singer is singing not about his lover but about Heroin.

I think of you in motion and just how close you are getting, And how every little thing anticipates you

All down my veins my heart-strings call, Are you the one that I've been waiting for?”

Who is getting closer. The lover or the dealer ? All down his veins calling for what, the lover or the rush ? It’s a brilliant piece of songwriting. If you want to hear it as a beautiful love song you can, if you want to read in something more ominous, you can.

Side 2 seems more openly about PJ Harvey particularly “West Country Girl” and “Black Hair”. The final three songs are a man coming to terms with a breakup.  “The Boatman’s Call” is an album full of questions, love and pain. This album is the soundtrack to a broken heart.

(Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For? - https://youtu.be/Dd51SEljBU0?t=20

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