Top 102 Albums. No 46.
Your Funeral, My Trial - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
I had this put aside for my Top Ten but as there is a new Bad Seeds album out now seems like the perfect time to write about it. These posts often become like an itch that wants to be scratched. They won't listen to my arguments that they should wait until later.
The first step to this album occupying the place it does in my heart was the wait. On the official release date I ghosted up the stairs to Freebird Records at the college end of Grafton Street, money crumpled in my grubby fist, already imagining the needle dropping onto the pristine vinyl. But the record hadn't arrived. It was the same story in other record stores and they had no idea why the albums hadn't arrived.
I can't remember how long this went on for, a week or more if memory serves me correctly. When it finally arrived expectation had come to a peak. I brought the album over to the cafe in college and there were around five other people sitting there with Freebird bags. We all knew what the other bags held. Eyes met over polystyrene cups.
These were the days before the internet so all that I had heard were a couple of tracks on John Peel and Dave Fanning. The album was spread across two 12" 45rpm records and came in a beautifully designed gatefold sleeve.
I can still remember the first time I played side one of disc one. Two songs, Sad Waters and the eight minute epic The Carny. The first a haunting ballad set in a world of dirt and roots and water, an elemental place. It opens with lines lifted from classic from beyond the grave song The Green, Green Grass of Home. This is a world where death is a fruit hanging low. Now it seems to prefigure Caves 'breakthrough' duet with diminutive fellow antipodean Kylie.
"Mary in the shallows laughing
Over where the carp dart
Spooked by the new shadows that she cast
Across these sad waters and across my heart"
The second was a kaleidoscopic tale of circus freaks, a biblical flood, the corpse of a horse called Sorrow and a murder of crows circling it all. It was like Todd Browning's Freaks mixed up with Night of the Hunter and The Ten Commandments - a twisted epic. When it ended the needle went back to the start. The clip above shows the Bad Seeds around the time of Your Funeral, My Trial, as featured in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire.
"And the rain came hammering down
Everybody running for their wagons
Tying all the canvas flaps down
The mangy cats growling in their cages
The bird-girl flapping and squawking around
The whole valley reeking of wet beast
Wet beast and rotten, sodden hay
Freak and brute creation
Packed up and on their way "
These two songs alone had justified the price of the record and the days hanging around Freebird waiting for it to arrive. (Although I spent many days there anyway so that was no great sacrifice.)
The first song on the second side, Your Funeral, My Trial, was named after an old blues song. A grim song from the point of view of a shamed, doomed but unrepentant killer which it is easy to read as the culmination of Sad Waters. This is followed by the imagistic Stranger Than Kindness, a tale of waifs and strays penned by Cave's sometime girlfriend Anita Lane (who had written and co-written songs for both The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds before), and Blixa Bargeld. It has a shambling majesty and remains, ironically enough given his songwriting chops, one of my favourite songs by Cave.
This first disc came in a beautifully designed inner sleeve but the second disc didn't, and therein lies a tale. Years later when I saw that the second disc should, in fact, have had its own inner sleeve I was able to put two and two together and work out why the album was delayed.
The first inner (on left) showed a scene from the stations of the cross. The second (left, below) showed a woman examining her vagina in a mirror. This clearly came to the attention of someone in customs who must have found the second image, particularly in conjunction with the religious imagery of the first, of an offensive enough nature to cause it to be removed from the album.
I want mine back!
On to the second disc. The first song is Jack's Shadow, another song full of imagery of incarceration and murder. the sound here harks back towards early Bad Seeds like Black Crow King from From Her to Eternity with the band chorusing repetitive phrases behind St Nick. The maybe murder is presented through the mind of Jack, who thinks he is cutting the shadow away from his body.
Next comes Hard on For Love, a frenzy of biblically flavoured lust, with Nick as the servant of the Lord; "I am his rod and his staff / I am his sceptre and his shaft" panting around a girl who "looks like she walked straight out of the book of Leviticus."
It is followed by yet another fractured tale of maybe murder, She Fell Away. Once again, as in Jack's Shadow, we are in the dislocated mind of the possible murderer.
The album ends with a cover of Long Time Man, which we met recently in its earlier home on Tim Rose's debut album. It is a fitting end, a great version of a powerful song, once again featuring a murderer, this time less dislocated and swamped by guilt.
The inexorable rumble of The Bad Seeds hadn't taken on the overtly cartoonish tinge they later would and the darkness is really only leavened with shards of sonic beauty and the awful aptness of the intense, focussed imagery and vocabulary. Breaking it into four parts not only helped make these wonderfully sounding slabs of vinyl but gave the listeners much needed breaks.
I could have chosen other Bad Seeds albums. I love the first two, From Her to Eternity and The First Born is Dead and many more. I still look forward to each one but never with the same intensity I brought to this one.
And now to listen to the latest:
Thanks for the images - http://www.twitteringmachines.com/2010/08/your-funeral-my-trial/
Here's a taster of West Berlin at the time. Closing night of the famous Risiko bar where Blixa Bargeld worked as a barman. Music from Mick Harvey and Anita Lane.