Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Henry’s Dream

Henry’s Dream (1992)


1. Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry 2. I Had A Dream, Joe 3. Straight To You 4. Brother, My Cup Is Empty 5. Christina The Astonishing 6. When I First Came To Town 7. John Finn’s Wife 8. Loom Of The Land 9. Jack The Ripper


The soundtrack to an evil, demented Western Quentin Tarantino might make if somebody ever got him to shut his gigantic mouth and then raped his wife while forcing him to watch Clockwork Orange-style. I mean, it’s got a pretend movie billboard for a cover, after all. It’s even been proposed that this here is a veiled concept album… I suppose that’s possible, but rather than nitpicking my way through the lyrics to indentify the “story” or any recurring characters, I’ll just leave it at the fact that this is a terrific batch of songs driven by outstanding, idiosyncratically powerful narrative storytelling and imagery. Leave it to Nick Cave to describe a barn dance as being “like squirming flies on a pin/In the heat and in the din.” And this has to be Nick’s lyrical peak… on no other record has he simultaneously embraced his literary tendencies and his fucked up obsessions with sex, death and religion to such an extent. Forget The Good Son… there ain’t no love songs here. These tunes are all dark, sinister short stories about mysterious, roguish characters killing, fucking, dying and drinking in Nick Cave’s mythical version of the lawless Old West, set to music.

Yup, Nick is still trying to put his own spin on traditional American music, and similar to the way The Firstborn Is Dead was his take on Delta blues, Henry’s Dream sees Nick and the band exploring some of the darkest corners of American folk and country/western. This results in experiments in narrative folk song structure, complete with verbose verses and sing-alongable choruses, and a musical palette dominated by Mick Harvey’s driving, flailing acoustic rhythm guitars and lonesome Hammond organ. The producer was David Briggs, who, known for producing virtually every Neil Young album between 1968 and his death in 1995, would seem like a natural fit for this album. But Nick and the band were so displeased with Briggs’ mix that they re-mixed it themselves. I don’t know what the Briggs mix sounded like, but as is, it sounds fantastic – such a rich, guttural acoustic guitar sound I have rarely heard on record elsewhere, and you can practically feel the spittle spraying out of Nick’s mouth as he rages on.

Songs? Who knows what “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” is supposed to be about, but never before have I heard such an array of visceral and violent yet eloquent imagery as is collected in the song’s six minutes… and a great group sing-along chorus to boot. “Straight To You” is love-in-the-time-of-the-apocalypse power ballad… as far as songs with similar subjects go, it can’t quite muster the same drama as Bowie’s classic “Heroes,” but it’s prettier and more melodic, if that counts for anything. The brutal, pounding closer “Jack The Ripper,” on the other hand, is all leering lust and anger. “John Finn’s Wife,” a tale of sex and murder on the dance floor (which I believe is the title of the next Madonna album), doesn’t boast a big chorus hook like most of the other songs here, but it doesn’t need one – it’s got a compelling story and pulsating strings. And man, I just love the sound of an acoustic guitar whipping along as fast as its owner’s wrists can manage – like Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues” before them, “Brother, My Cup Is Empty” and “I Had A Dream, Joe” are a couple of mighty fine, angry shuffles that put that sound to good use.

OK, sure, it’s a little samey – the only tunes here that aren’t creepy Western folk songs are “Straight To You” and the album’s only relative lull, the atmospheric organ-based “Christina The Astonishing.” But they’re great Western folk songs – “The Mercy Seat” isn’t the only Nick Cave song Johnny Cash could’ve done proud. I can think of at least nine others.

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