Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Good Son

The Good Son (1990)

B

1. Foi Na Cruz 2. The Good Son 3. Sorrow’s Child 4. The Weeping Song 5. The Ship Song 6. The Hammer Song 7. Lament 8. The Witness Song 9. Lucy

 

In light of Rush Limbaugh’s latest display of mouth flatulence, I would loath to say anything devoid of the utmost gender-sensitivity. So I hope you can believe me when I tell you I’m not being sexist when I say that the sixth Bad Seeds album, The Good Son, is a sissy album for pansies and silly girls. Also, you’re a slut and you should blow me and film it and put it on the internet.

Aw, come on now, baby, where you going? What’s wrong? Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. You know you’re my world and I respect your rights as a woman and your feminist views. But we all know feminism is just a bunch of bitches sitting around talking about their periods and shit, am I right?

Ahh! Dammit. I’m really sorry, I swear. Let me try this one more time.

TITS.

Fuck it.

Because I am in a great relationship with the most amazing girl in the world, I’m probably in no position to shit on other people’s lovey dovey crap. But it’s sort of difficult to reconcile the fire and brimstone-breathing Nick Cave of the 80s with music so obviously lacking in balls – as much of The Good Son is. New decade, new vision, I guess, and of course many diehard fans revolted when this album came out (I mean, shit, the album title is basically the exact opposite of the band name). “What’s the deal with all these piano ballads?” they might’ve asked themselves. “And all the romantic lyrics? Where are all the songs about getting sodomized by the Devil?” they surely continued. “If a bear shits in the woods and no one is around to smell it, do they wipe with toilet paper like in those Charmin commercials?” I think we’d all like to know the answer to that one, but I can explain the other two pretty easily. See, Nick had kicked heroin and fallen in love with some bitch (I’m sorry. Not “some bitch.” His Brazilian girlfriend and later mother of his eldest son, Viviane Carneiro. I’m sorry, I just can’t seem to get out of the “pretending to be Rush Limbaugh” mode I was in at the beginning of this review). This naturally led him to write a bunch of slow, piano-based love songs. Nothing wrong with that in principle, and Nick Cave-as-romantic crooner would, over time, become an increasingly significant and interesting part of his musical palette. It’s just that, at this stage, some of his attempts at this style come across more schmaltzy and over-sentimental than emotional and effecting.

It’s not difficult to spot the awkward sections. Yes, I think the chorus of “Lament” is lovely, but if it were sung by Neil Diamond—which I can easily imagine it being—would I change my tune? I’d like to think not, but I doubt those corny Latin verses would sound that great no matter who sang them. The opening and closing tracks don’t do much for me either. Of all the examples of rock singers bungling foreign languages in song, “Foi Na Cruz,” based on a traditional Brazilian hymn—the chorus is sung in what I presume to be Portuguese—is probably pretty low on the list of offenses, but is high on schmaltz. But not nearly as high as the closing ballad “Lucy,” doused in gloppy 40s movie strings and burdened by overwrought romantic lyrics fit for a fucking Petrarch poem, but it’s partially redeemed by an entrancing, dreamlike instrumental coda. And what of Nick’s signature ballad, “The Ship Song” – surely if I’m put off by all the sappy string arrangements and un-manly sentimentality on display on this album, I can’t like that one, right? Wrong. Is it a pansy ass, melodramatic piano love song? Yeah, but the melody is strong, beautiful and uplifting. The part of Nick that has always wanted to be Frank Sinatra shines through here without embarrassing itself.

OK, so it’s not all sissy love songs. With its lyrics about raging fathers and murderous townsfolk and its spooky James Bond lead guitar lick, “The Hammer Song”—not to be confused with the Sensational Alex Harvey Band cover of the same name that appeared on Kicking Against The Pricks—builds up a musical maelstrom, gentle when compared to “Tupelo” but like those tornadoes that destroy LA in The Day After Tomorrow when compared to “Lucy.” The title track tries to get similarly riled up, and I like the contrast between the dark, galloping verses and the gentle gospel excerpt they stick in there, but piano, acoustic guitar and syrupy strings just can’t replicate the fire that happens when Nick is screaming along to scraping, dissonant guitars. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’d begun getting more melodic, and they would only get better at it while figuring out how to sound evil at the same time. The single and live favorite “The Weeping Song,” on the other hand, is an unequivocal tonally downbeat winner, enhanced by tinkling marimba and Nick and Blixa trading off lead vocals as they lament the weeping men and women of the world (man, thickly-accented Germans singing rock music doesn’t always work—see: Nico—but I love Blixa’s vocals on this one).

Though The Good Son wasn’t all that well received on its release, it’s now often mentioned as one of his greatest ever albums, especially in light of the fact that the gentler strains of Nick’s songwriting, in the form of 1997’s The Boatman’s Call and 2001’s No More Shall We Part, later boosted his popularity in a major way. And yes, parts of it are very beautiful and parts even brood and rock like the Old Testament-obsessed Nick Cave we all know and love. But tread carefully if you have an aversion to romantic crooning – there’s plenty of that here.



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