The sound of a band at the very peak of its malevolent powers.
Luke Turner 2011-05-13
Let Love In, the eighth album by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, is in many ways the group’s wholly realised work. Even more than their 1998 Best Of, it stands as the best introduction to the eloquent and elegant netherworld of Godless fornicators, murderers, the bereft and drunk and lonely and lost conjured up by Cave and his suited cohorts. Recorded two years after the flawed (according to the band; many fans regard it as another classic) signpost that was Henry’s Dream, and just before the bloody and body-strewn Kylie-featuring Murder Ballads, Let Love In not only pointed towards The Bad Seeds’ future direction, but harked back to their blustering, violent roots.
Part of this cohesion comes from the fact that the album is bookended by two tracks of the same name. The first Do You Love Me? is a gothic rouser, an ode to a dangerous lost love delivered despairingly to the sky as organ and piano rattle dementedly about, Cave in ferocious vocal form as The Bad Seeds join him with doomy backing vocals, like sextons in full lament. The second Do You Love Me, written from the point of view of a rent boy who plies his trade in pornographic cinemas, is weary and resigned, the strings (an early appearance by now-key Bad Seed and Grinderman Warren Ellis) suggesting an inevitable, tragic denouement.
Between these two explorations of the entrapping power of love and sex gone wrong are eight pieces of startling moods. Nobody’s Baby Now, Ain’t Gonna Rain Any More and Lay Me Low are fine slow numbers, the latter a desperate rant of a man dreaming of the reaction to his own death but, and this is key to Let Love In, possessed of a black and terrific wit: "There’ll be informative six-page features / when I go," sings our protagonist in impotent rage. The same goes for Jangling Jack, just under three minutes of explosive multi-instrumental punk that tells of a man who goes to a bar, orders a "Rinky Dink Special and a little umbrella too", makes a toast, and ends up shot and dying in a pool of blood on the floor. It could have easily fitted on Murder Ballads, and showcases Cave’s humour, something often overlooked in popular characterisation of the Melbourne native as a pompous old crow.
Just as Cave the lyricist kept his muse locked away from the sentimentality of approaching middle age, musically Let Love In sees The Bad Seeds managing to stay away from rock classicism and tedious proficiency bizarrely embraced by most groups when they reach that point in their career. So they deploy bells, barroom brawling piano and discord (largely from Einstürzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld) alongside dense arrangements that feel like a church falling on your head (see Loverman and Thirsty Dog).
The climax, though, comes on the album’s centrepiece, and what is often argued to be The Bad Seeds’ finest moment, Red Right Hand. It delivers its menace quietly at first, a folk tale of some unspecified bogeyman ("A tall handsome man / In a dusty black coat") who haunts not only the American gothic town depicted in Cave’s lyrics, but your weak, susceptible inner self: "He’ll appear out of nowhere / And he ain’t what he seems... You’re one microscopic cog / In his catastrophic plan". It’s a track that, always reworked, remains a staple of The Bad Seeds’ live set.
After Let Love In, The Bad Seeds were never quite the same again; though that shouldn’t be taken as a pejorative. After Murder Ballads, Cave’s music took a turn for the calmer mainstream until the release of The Lyre of Orpheus / Abattoir Blues and the emergence of the lascivious Grinderman. As such, Let Love In is a record of seedy panache and considered violence, the sound of a band at the very peak of its malevolent powers.