Title: The Good Son
Format: Single LP
Catalogue Number: STUMM76
Year of Release: 1990
A1 Foi Na Cruz (5:39)
A2 The Good Son (6:04)
A3 Sorrow's Child (4:38)
A4 The Weeping Song (4:11)
B1 The Ship Song (4:15)
B2 The Hammer Song (4:17)
B3 Lament (4:54)
B4 The Witness Song (4:58)
B5 Lucy (4:17)
I hinted in The Ship Song review, linked to above, that Nick Cave's new found love and sobriety influenced this album heavily. Listening to it through again I'd like to qualify what I meant by that.
The band are more focussed and professional, and the majority of the songs on here are of the slower, piano-driven variety. But lyrically, Nick has not changed much. This is no Boatman's Call, where the break-up of his relationship with P J Harvey resulted in songs such as the poisonous West Country Girl.
The exception that proves the rule is the opener. The album's poor reception at the time of its release could, I think, be blamed entirely on Foi Na Cruz. Based on a Brazilian hymn, and musically uninteresting, it plods slowly through it's religious bits, and recycles the lyric "love comes a'knocking" for the third time in as many years. The Cave-penned parts finish with a cringe-inducing spoken word section, before the hymn takes us to a merciful fade.
It picks up nicely after that though. The Good Son is one of the most compelling tunes on the album. Beginning and ending with the simple chant "One more man gone" it tells the prodigal son story from the side of the son that stays behind, and proves that Cave can drum up energy, fire and menace from New Testament material just as well as Old, as he spits out the lines:
And he curses his mother
And he curses his father
And he curses his virtue like an unclean thing
This is an album of contradictions, it's hated for being a gentle work, but The Good Son is not a song about a son who wants to be good, just as The Weeping Song is not a sad song, and The Ship Song, warmly regarded as a great love song, is more about love's inevitable demise than the kind of song you'd expect from someone beginning a new relationship.
Second President of the United States of America, John Adams, said, "Genius is sorrow's child", I don't know if this has any bearing on interpretation of that song's lyrics, but I offer it up as an interesting nugget. It's a contemplative number seems to be concerned more with life's myriad sadnesses, as is The Weeping Song, for which Blixa's turn as the Father deserves special mention. I own the single, which came out after the album, so will cover this song in more detail shortly.
On the B-side The Hammer Song is most like the Nick Cave we hear on Henry's Dream, spinning tales of outlaw towns and people all out of luck. Good fun, if a little obvious. Lament is genuinely a lament, but not one that universally sings the praises of someone lost, but realistically lists their faults too. Looking at the lyrics again, I think it might be about heroin.
The Witness Song is "based loosely" (it says on wikipedia) on the gospel song, Who Will Be A Witness? I am unfamiliar with the source material, but this song is a storming gospel number, with the backing vocals from the Bad Seeds adding greatly to the atmosphere, and Cave doing an odd turn as a gospel preacher. It also features the line, "I kissed her once, I kissed her twice", which reminded me of a joke in the Blackadder II episode Potato:
Blackadder: Not joining us in the ha ha's, Percy?
Percy: [With visible disdain] No! [valiantly] I'm thinking of England and the girl I left behind me.
Blackadder: [annoyed] Oh, God; I didn't know you had a girl.
Percy: [getting all dreamy] Oh, yes. Lady Caroline Fairfax.
Blackadder: [surprised] Caroline! I didn't know you knew her.
Percy: Oh, yes! I even touched her once.
Blackadder: [puzzled] Touched her what?
Percy: Uh, once. In the corridor.
Blackadder: I've never heard it called that before. [pauses and reflects] Here- when you get home in six months, you'll be a hero. She might even let you get your hands on her twice.
As this was originally broadcast in 1986, the gag was lost on me at the time, although I knew it was rude. I digress.
Lucy is a stunning, simple, and moving finale. A paean to a lost love, possibly dead, and worth getting for the pianos on the reprise section, accompanied by Nick Cave on harmonica. A fitting ending to a wonderful and underrated album.
The piano coda on Lucy was the last contribution of Roland Wolf to the band, and this album also marked the departure of the fabulously-named Kid Congo Powers, who's given name, it turns out, is Brian Tristan.