Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Tender Prey, The Good Son & Henry’s Dream (CD/DVD reissues)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (circa Henry's Dream)

Although it initially seemed that the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds reissue programme was to run through its 3 or 4 album batches with exhausting frequency, it’s taken nearly a year for this second wave to hit upon us.  What was perhaps conceived as a between Bad Seeds albums interest-retainer, has in fact been derailed by Cave’s own prolific extracurricular activities, which has included two soundtrack releases with Warren Ellis (White Lunar and The Road) and the publication of his second novel, The Death Of Bunny Munro. But as Cave is currently beavering away on a second album with his Grinderman side-project, there comes a window of opportunity to slip back out his landmarking ‘80s-into-‘90s trilogy with remastered sound and bolted-on bonus-filled DVDs.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Tender Prey

Were it not for its fragmented conception against the backdrop of drug-fuelled self-disintegration and everybody’s extramural projects, then 1988’s Tender Prey could arguably have become the definitive Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album.  Instead, it’s a somewhat flawed magnum opus; containing a slew of seminal songs that stand-up better apart than they do together.  It almost goes without typing, to say that “The Mercy Seat” – which opens the album with its vertigos stream of death-row-to-electric-chair prose set against an equally disorientating torrential groove – is Cave’s near-undisputed finest moment as a songwriter.  Close behind in the excellence stakes comes the churning “City Of Refuge,” the garrulous garage-rock of “Deanna,” the opulently optimistic “New Morning,” the ribald bluesy “Up Jumped The Devil” and the oft overlooked Biblical masterstroke of “Mercy.”  The broken Bacharachian “Slowly Goes The Night” could have been another contender for the upper Cave realms were it not for its wobbly affected lead vocals.  “Watching Alice” could also have been a further gem were it not for its ill-focused musical arrangement and uncomfortable voyeurism.  The druggy ‘n’ sloppy rhyme-jinxed “Sunday’s Slave” and the misogynistic dirge “Sugar Sugar Sugar” are, however, the genuinely unredeemable Achilles’ heels that nearly sink Tender Prey in its closing quarter.  Despite its self-undoing underbelly though, Tender Prey does mark a point where Cave truly managed to harness the literary beast within and where everyone in The Bad Seeds – bolstered by Roland Wolf and The Gun Club’s Kid Congo Powers – became nearly as important as their employer.

Notable DVD Extras: Another part of the ongoing documentary film series proves to be far more insightful than any attached to the first round of reissues.  Arresting and alluring acoustic versions of “The Mercy Seat,” “Deanna” and “City Of Refuge” prove the sterling flexibility of Cave’s sturdiest material and The Bad Seeds’ envy-inducing adaptability.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Good Son

Recorded in São Paolo, after Cave’s post-rehab relocation to Brazil, 1990’s The Good Son, then and now, feels like a self-conscious career redirecting and rebuilding exercise, after the chaos surrounding his turbulent narcotic ‘80s.  Consequently, Cave bravely alienated his long-unwanted Goth following with a seemingly pretty ballad-heavy collection that, akin to its prequel, contains some of his finest standards but doesn’t go the full distance as a cohesively satisfying set.  Highest achieving of all are “The Ship Song” (one of Cave’s most charmingly effective chivalrous love songs) and “The Weeping Song” (a wonderfully strange percussion-driven duet with Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld).  Just down from those are the serene and uncynical likes of “Sorrow’s Child” and “Lucy,” as well as the gospel-inflected “Foi Na Cruz” and “The Witness Song.”  The Old Testament-powered storytelling of “The Hammer Song” and the title-track may have once brought in some smoothness-offsetting melodrama to proceedings yet somehow they now sound a tad hammy and self-parodying.  However, the true stinker of The Good Son is the soppy and indeed lamentable “Lament.”  Curiously, for all its wider screen and string-framed arrangements, The Good Son now seems quaintly fragile and borderline-slight.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – especially at a time when even the tiniest of recordings can sound overly big due to butch mastering – but it’s not an album that sounds quite as important in the Cave catalogue as it once did.

Notable DVD Extras: Aside from an unpretentiously beatific cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless,” the bonus material on this one is fairly nondescript.  The absence of the beefier single mix of “The Weeping Song” and the inclusion of the most toe-curlingly fawning talking-head documentary to date doesn’t help matters either.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Henry's Dream

Although largely loathed by its creators for its painful gestation with ill-matched Neil Young producer David Briggs, 1992’s Henry’s Dream is still arguably one of the strongest all round albums in the Cave & Bad Seeds canon and it remains a firm fan favourite.  With the addition of pianist Conway Savage and ex-Triffids bassist Martyn P. Casey, the most stable Bad Seeds line-up took shape, for a set high in vivid boisterous storytelling and galvanised group dynamics.  Powered by a rough ravaging acoustic guitar-led sound, needed to catch Cave’s densely-spitting lyrics, Henry’s Dream is often breathtaking and sometimes hilariously enjoyable.  Nowhere better is this essence distilled than on the epic rambling Dylanesque prologue of “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” with its bloody and word-spewing-travelogue of “warm arterial spray” and “babies being born without brains,” inspired by the slums of Brazil.  The savagery continues across the barroom blitzkrieg of “I Had A Dream, Joe,” the jaggedly jittery “Brother, My Cup Is Empty” and the brutal domestic dystopianism of “Jack The Ripper.”  There’s room for more subtly-measured pieces too, which are just as engaging, as the country-folk tale of “When I First Came To Town” and the divinely dreamy “Loom Of The Land” beautifully attest.  Best of all though, is the utterly jaw-dropping “John’s Finn’s Wife,” which pre-empts and surpasses the whole of 1996’s Murder Ballads with its cinematic body count scene conjuring.  The only weak links in Henry’s Dream are found through the schmaltzy “Straight To You” and the ponderously pretentious “Christina The Astonishing.”  Overall though, this is definitely one of the best and continuously rewarding entry points into the overwhelming Cave repertoire, made even mightier with age.

Notable DVD Extras: A noticeably different 5.1 surround mix suggests how Henry’s Dream might have appeared had David Briggs not been in the studio control room.  Period b-side excavation offers up the balmy “Loom Of The Land”-like “Blue Bird,” a superior fully-unplugged take of “Jack The Ripper” and some storming live tracks that should stir people into acquiring 1993’s must-hear Live Seeds.  Frustratingly though, none of the unreleased demos for Henry’s Dream – which The Bad Seeds claim to prefer to the final official versions – have been given the opportunity for a belated airing on the bonus disc.

Mute Records

(Release Note: All the above are available on Mute as both CD/DVD editions and regular extras-free CDs)