This is a cracking article – listing all Nick Cave LPs in order of greatness.. and, IMHO, they’ve made a pretty good job of it. Except of course they have mis-files Tender Prey at #2 when it should, of course, be at #1.
I’ll write a stiff letter.
02. Tender Prey (1988)
Following the relatively lackluster Your Funeral… My Trial, one would hardly have expected Tender Prey to be one of Nick Cave’s impeccable masterstrokes with the Bad Seeds. Even less so would one have expected a seven-minute long, punishingly monotonous and ferociously taut song about a death row inmate to become the one song that Cave would be best known for. “The Mercy Seat” is, of course, an irreproachably brilliant piece of songwriting, but beyond that, it’s the first time that Cave proved that he truly deserved to be considered among the other songwriting titans of the late twentieth century — Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, and whomever else you care to throw into the mix. The song’s lyrics are inspired enough to stand on their own merits, but the original album arrangement of the song is what breathes life into and animates the tortured sentiments and dogged stubbornness of the narrator, from the gnarled loop made from Mick Harvey punishing a bass guitar, to Thomas Wydler’s crackling, unrelenting snare drum, to the guest string section that scythes and struts as the song continues to what can’t rightly be called a crescendo, but rather a plateau that constantly ratchets the tension until every nerve in the listener’s body feels just as frayed and desperate as the narrator contemplating the electric chair and its incomprehensible kiss.
Given the immensity of its opening song, the rest of Tender Prey could have been forgiven for suffering from a bit of an inferiority complex. Thankfully, the remainder of the material is diverse enough (and, even more importantly, dark and entirely doom-wracked enough) that it doesn’t need to invite direct comparison, and in fact the Bad Seeds feel hungrier and more on fire here than they have since From Her To Eternity. Many of the album’s best moments come from gleefully diabolical contrast, as on “Deanna,” where the irresistible, danceable sway of the organ and drumbeat distract — if only momentarily — from such lines as “we’ll unload into their heads” and “I cum a death’s head into your frock.” The voyeurism of “Watching Alice” is leavened by the gentle piano and the softly mournful cant of Cave’s vocal, presenting this as the domesticated version of “From Her To Eternity.” Mick Harvey is the star of “Up Jumped The Devil,” providing both a bass line that swaggers like it wants to fight you and some appropriately creepy-crawly xylophone.
But of course, Cave himself is the stand-out star of Tender Prey. His vocals cycle through an impressive variety of deliveries, and “Slowly Goes The Night” might be one of the first songs to really show his knack for singing ballads. And most importantly, out of every single corner and off every imagined page, his words leap like snakes: “Who’s that hanging from the gallow tree?/ His eyes are hollow but he looks like me” (from “Up Jumped The Devil”); “While you kneel at the feet of a woman of the street/ The gutters will run with blood; they will run with blood!” (from “City Of Refuge”); and “My death, it almost bored me/ So often was it told” (from “Mercy”). The great, grinding menace of “Sugar Sugar Sugar,” and the way it cuts such a delectable contrast with the spacious, sing-along praise chorus of the album closer “New Morning” presage the entire mode of operation for the only other album of Cave’s that would prove a greater statement. “New Morning,” with its uplifting tilt (no matter how much the rest of the album seems to subvert its very sentiment), and with all instrumentation handled by the long-faithful Bad Seeds core of Cave, Harvey, and Bargeld feels like a well-deserved victory lap just as much as it does a signal that this band which had already progressed so much was still sailing for broader vistas. And anyway, I told the truth.