CD Review of The Firstborn Is Dead/Your Funeral…My Trial by Nick Cave
Nick Cave:
The Firstborn Is Dead

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Label: Mute
Released: 2009
Buy from Amazon.com
Buy your copy from
Amazon.com
 


Nick Cave:
Your Funeral…My Trial

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Label: Mute
Released: 2009
Buy from Amazon.com
Buy your copy from
Amazon.com
 

Reviewed by Jim Washington

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L
adies and gentlemen, the grandfather of Goth is back.

Of course, Nick Cave never went away, what with high-profile recent releases by side project Grinderman and his own 2008 hit album Dig!!! Lazurus Dig!!! but in a way, the early Cave is back, thanks to recently released deluxe remastered versions of his first four solo albums. The reissues include a DVD with surround sound remixes and a multi-part documentary focusing on each release.

It’s safe to say the title of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ second album didn’t reflect an opinion of their first. 1985’s The Firstborn Is Dead followed From Her to Eternity, Cave’s much-loved solo debut after the breakup of Goth heroes the Birthday Party. The Bad Seeds was something of a supergroup, featuring former members of the Birthday Party, Magazine and Einsturzende Neubauten.

No, the title of The Firstborn Is Dead refers to the stunning album opener "Tupelo."

The song starts with the sounds of thunder and driving rain, followed by a dark and forbidding bass line and Cave’s rumbling voice warning "Looka yonder, looka yonder, a big black cloud comes." It gets scarier from there, as Cave bemoans a dark beast descending on a small Southern town, a threat which spooks the animals and sucks the river dry. And what is this terrifying vision? Turns out it’s an omen of the birth of Elvis Presley, the "firstborn" referring to his dead twin brother.

Yikes.

It’s tough to tell if this forbidding work celebrates Elvis and everything he brought about or condemns (is the King supposed to be the Devil? And is that even a bad thing to Cave’s way of thinking?) Either way, it’s one hell of a way to start an album.

The rest of the seven songs on Firstborn continue in that vein, paying tribute to the darkest of Southern blues players – artists such as Robert Johnson and Skip James, name-dropping Blind Lemon Jefferson and imbuing him with supernatural powers. The lyrics draw from traditional Southern blues as well – love, omens, floods and suffering.

On "Train Long-Suffering," Cave moans, "The tunnel of love is long and lonely / Engines steaming like a fist, into the jolly jaw of morning / Oh baby, it gets smashed, I kick all the goddamn splinters / Into all the looking eyes in the world."

Cave and the Seeds followed up Firstborn with an album of covers before coming back in 1986 with Your Funeral…My Trial. The band didn’t stray far from the mood and obsessions already established. "Sad Waters" starts the album out on what for Cave passes as a light-hearted note, a scene of two lovers cavorting at the waterside.

Then of course it plunges right back into the shadows with "The Carny," a sordid and lengthy tale of a traveling freak show that comes, as you might imagine, to little good. The calliope-style organ on this song sounds just out of tune enough to fit the mood.

The crooning title track is actually one of the least effective songs on the album, otherwise highlighted by the sensual "Hard On for Love" and an appropriately harsh cover of "Long Time Man."

If you’re in the right mood – a gloomy one, that is – there’s no one better to let you wallow, and maybe, in the process, see that it could be much, much worse.

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