Nothing Mellow About Nick Cave

Obsessive personality. Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

Nick Cave is nothing if not enigmatic, and unpredictable. So it just makes

sense that the Australian rocker, who began his long, strange journey through

death and mayhem in the early 80's with the bleak-rockers in the Birthday Party

and who last year unleashed on the world the dismal Murder Ballads,

would follow such a dark release with an album of plaintive, dare we say

beautiful, love ballads.

Produced by Cave and the Bad Seeds and

U2-collaborator Flood, The Boatman's Call (Mar. 11) is a delicate

passion play built on 12 songs and love poems that reveal a more tender, but no

less lyrically striking, side of Cave. Starting with the swaying "Into My

Arms," one of many songs in which Cave struggles with both religion and love

and the unholy intersection of the two, he pleads:

"I don't believe in an

interventionist God

"But I know, darling, that you do

"But if I did I

would kneel down and ask Him

"not to intervene when it came to you


to touch a hair on your head

"to leave you as you are,"

It is, perhaps,

the purest, most sincere love song to ever drip from Cave's perennially

sarcastic and morbid lips...

The album was recorded in July of 1996 in London, which is

where ATN caught up with Cave this week. "I've wanted to make a record of slow,

melancholic songs, for a long time now," said Cave. "I've always written a fair

amount of these kinds of songs and they continue to be the favorite one's I've


One of the most striking things about the album, whose musical

accompaniment is spare, with understated playing from the Bad Seeds and a few

guest turns on violin from Warren Ellis of the Australia's Dirty Three, is how

strongly the lyrics stand out, even when the music is stripped away.

Elegies like "West Country Girl" and mantra-like "Black Hair," not

surprisingly, got their start as poems that Cave says he penned for a special

someone. "That song was written as a gift to the person I'm singing about, it's

most certainly about a particular person" said Cave of "Black Hair." "In fact,

I don't know if I should have even put it on there. It's basically a song about

taking a certain aspect of that woman and repeating it in a mantra-like

fashion. I find that with many of the women I fall in love with, or am

infatuated by, I cling to a certain physical aspects of them and am inspired by

those aspects."

In the song, Cave repeats the title phrase more than a

dozen times, until his entire world seems to be blotted out by a thick curtain

of blackness, black hair, "as deep as ink," "black, black as the deepest sea."

Although the album is a decided turn away from the murder, rape, pillage

and random violence of his last effort, Cave doesn't consider it a sign of his

mellowing with age. "I have no idea if I'm mellowing out," he said with a

grumble. "I mean, I think this slow, melancholic music is really a logical

conclusion to what I've been doing for many years."