A good album typically becomes representative in the listener's mind of the point in their life when they first started listening to it. Songs become synonymous with places, people, feelings, frames of mind. Such albums may even slip through the cracks for a few years. You may even forget the effect they have on you until you give it a listen, but then Oh I Haven't Heard This In A While becomes Oh and Oh and Oh.

It was April first, but not a joke, when my mom slipped the note under my door: I had a week to pack my things and leave. I realize now that my behavior -- teenage bee ess that isn't important now -- in the house warranted this adjustment, but, at the time, that was a rush, a cause for elation: I was free. I packed haphazardly and out of necessity. My clothes, my typewriter, old papers, teas, and, of course, my records all had to fit in the back of my truck and make it to-- Well, that was the thing. How many people were going to rent to an unemancipated seventeen-year-old? Turned out the answer to that question was Not Fucking Many. Eventually I found a small notice in the paper advertising an even smaller basement apartment, but the landlord didn't care if I was going to be cloning Hitler's brain in there, just so long as I paid the rent.

The place was musty, still recovering from the flood that had occurred on New Year's Day, the one that had even shut down the casinos for a spell. The gas powered furnace, shaped to look like a wood-burning stove, heated the entire place extraordinarily well. Spiders nested in my shower curtain. My couch was donated and my coffee table was constructed from the cardboard boxes I had used to move. It was my perfect little hell-hole. The first day I moved in, I celebrated by going record shopping. I bought one album, and it was the first I ever played in the apartment, my first record alone in the uncomfortably large world.
Taking into account the album preceding it, 1996's Murder Ballads, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' The Boatman's Call is a surprisingly calm, well-centered, and even soulful record. Cave doesn't pound the piano like he has in the past, there's no trace whatsoever of his thrashy heroin days in the arrangements, and the subject matter is more introspective than dark. These are midnight songs, lit by candlelight, firelight. They are sparse and safe and comfortable.

Cave does a lot more soul searching on this record than on previous ventures, and concentrates on fleshing out a select few aspects of his favorite old subjects. His deep, sonorous voice solemnly accompanies listeners on a journey of reflection on the nature of loss, love, and spirituality, crafted seamlessly into a lush, brooding tapestry. Old Seeds fans who may be disappointed by the change in style will be won over by the profound depth and exploration he is doing here: there is not a trace of artistic irony through the fifty-two minute run time.
A year later, a different living situation, still young, still frantically trying to get a handle on life. I was making out on the couch downstairs with the girl I lost my virginity to when she stopped and pushed me away. She couldn't stomach this record, needed something a little more upbeat. This was, however, the most romantic album I could conceive of at the time. Moreso, I almost felt insulted: this album had become so integral to my life, I couldn't imagine how she could've meant anything other than derision by wanting to listen to something else.

I had, of course, been listening to the album entirely too much. It was what I woke up to, what I fell asleep to, what I wrote to. Later on it came to light that she was really into Megadeth. Sometimes things don't work out.
Cave is accompanied, as always, by the ever growing Bad Seeds, who make their distinct marks known. Blixa Bargeld is doing some gorgeous things that don't happen on other Bad Seeds albums, a prime example being the subtle guitar work on Brompton Oratory that, somehow (amazingly), ends up driving the song. Martyn P. Casey has taken a page out of some Memphis soul songbooks for a lot of the bass work here. Thomas Wylder lays down plodding, sparse, Low-esque drums. Old Seeds Mick Harvey and Conway Savage add supporting layers of acoustic guitar and piano, fleshing out songs. Warren Ellis, staple of Dirty Three and Bad Seed since Murder Ballads, lends his mournful violin and accordion to the backgrounds of People Ain't No Good, Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere?, West Country Girl, Black Hair, Idiot Prayer, and Far From Me.

This all works on so many levels. Instead of throwing his entire band at songs, as has been his style in the past, Cave introduces his players casually, one at a time, song by song, lending the album a subtle flow, a nice undercurrent. Every note played and sung makes perfect sense in the context of both song and album, a precision that is evident on even the weakest song on the record, Black Hair. After years of making rowdy, fun, and even disturbing music, Cave has crafted something beautiful and endearing here. He has matured significantly since his days with The Birthday Party, and the payoff is The Boatman's Call, his masterpiece.
(years and years later, living in a tiny town where i have difficulty making friends. i broke down one day, collapsed in the shower, could not stop shivering. life still didn't make sense, nothing had changed, i felt, but my location. one half instinct and one half a need for low key music, i put on this record and insinuated myself between the cushions on the couch. smells, sights, senses i had forgotten about dominated my world, filled my body, my heart, my mind. i was back in a comfortable place. i was back home, and all it took was an exceptionally memorable album. sometimes, that's all you ever really need.)


Track list:
  1. Into My Arms
  2. Lime-Tree Arbour
  3. People Ain't No Good
  4. Brompton Oratory
  5. There is a Kingdom
  6. (Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?
  7. Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere?
  8. West Country Girl
  9. Black Hair
  10. Idiot Prayer
  11. Far From Me
  12. Green Eyes


All songs written by Nick Cave and published by Longitude Music Co., BMI. © 1997, Mute Records, released in the United States on Reprise. Produced by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Flood.

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