A The Ship Song
B The Train Song
Here's my main question for this post: How far does biographical information on a given artist serve to illuminate periods of their work?
I ask this because there are clear ups and downs in Nick Cave's work. Not in terms of quality (or, more realistically, not exclusively in terms of quality), but certainly in terms of tempo, mood, raucousness, and old vs. new testament feeling. Is it crude and reductive to link these changes to Nick's love life?
I want to say that an artist's work stands alone. A good song, like a good painting or a good poem, should stand out as a piece of work of sufficient quality, appreciated solely on its merits. Not because it was written during x or y period, or was emulating or building upon such-and-such.
But then I'm also a prurient human. I want to know the details. I also want to say that what anyone does, how anyone feels each day, affects their work. And if a given artist goes through a certain significant period in their lives, this is bound to be reflected in what they produce, and it might help if you, as a self-appointed pontificator on such matters, knew about that.
The Ship Song was released as the lead single for the album The Good Son, which appeared one month later, and will be reviewed next [here it is]. The album's muted (no pun intended) reception will also be covered there.
There is talk in e.g. allmusic that those who complained that this was a sold-out Nick Cave peddling poor balladry are ignoring the early, more contemplative moments of his back catalogue with the Bad Seeds to date. When I bought this, I was unfamiliar with the livelier side of the Bad Seeds anyway (I'm certainly hadn't got The Birthday Party records at this point) and this may well have been amongst my first Nick Cave purchases. I'm pretty sure The Singer was first, so I certainly wouldn't have been surprised by the mellow tone, only having that to go on.
And it is a great love song, and a regular feature of current live sets. And like Deanna, it sounds better these days, the production of 1990 grates a little, and Nick's voice is noticeably accented. (Which isn't a dig at the Australian accent, or more generally at any music performed with an accent, just a statement of fact. Later releases are just that bit less heavily accented, and were more popular.)
Here's a more recent performance:
On the compilation DVDSEEDS2 The Videos, many of the original promotional videos are introduced with a short interview snippet. Before The Ship Song video, Nick complains about being in an ill-fitting suit, and only just out of a month's spell in rehab which, "makes it hard to dance". A moment's search will find you the original video, and you'll see what he means.
The B-side is a gem, and a surprise it was only given B-side status, not put on the album. A simple tale of a missed train, and a lost love, set to swelling cinematic strings and piano motif. And produced by Flood, who I'd always associated with the baggier-end of The Charlatans, but it appears got most of his early work with The Bad Seeds, still, you live and learn.