Out There

Charon's song

The Boatman's Call
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Mute Records

When Nick Cave spoke to the Dallas Observer a year ago, he made it clear that he doesn't wish to be a part of pop culture. Describing most contemporary recordings as "music for kids," he disassociated himself from the pantheon of pop icons, saying that as a mature adult his concerns were different and that his subsequent releases would be more personal--a fair goal in an age of gimmicky tunes and empty, apathetic verbal drivel.

After the humorously macabre pyrotechnics of Murder Ballads, released last year, The Boatman's Call sounds like a comedown; it bears little resemblance to its predecessor, like the uneasy rest after a killing spree. The vicious narrator of Murder Ballads has given his seat to a weary man who reminisces about old love, more likely to bury the hatchet in the ground than in someone's head. All 12 songs here serve the same muse that has haunted Cave since his first album, 1984's From Her To Eternity--the "West Country Girl" with the "Black Hair" and "Green Eyes," the one he sings his "Idiot Prayer" for.

Unlike any of Cave's previous albums, The Boatman's Call is stripped completely of his typical sardonic humor and outbursts of rage, and it's not inhabited by Cave's usual grotesque characters, people finding themselves in tragic situations, compelled to commit unspeakable acts. It has very little of what made his previous recordings such delightful galleries of drama and horrors.

In the past, Cave's complex persona channeled his inner aggression to violent scenarios, his lyrics indicating that misanthropy is the last refuge of the true romantic. While he still lays that trip out bluntly here with "People Ain't No Good," this is his "love" album (despite its title, 1994's Let Love In concerned itself with darker subjects), opening with "Into My Arms" and the lines "I don't believe in an interventionist God/But I know darling that you do." It is brutally honest, almost painful to listen to, its spectral mood set mainly by Cave's serene, almost resigned delivery and the minimalist instrumentation. It's obvious that Cave has lived what he's singing about, and the chance to embrace these lyric confessionals is a rare treat. The Bad Seeds don't hit one major chord, making this the most crepuscular of Cave's offerings.

The chilling "Where Do We Go Now but Nowhere" suggests that the Boatman could be no other than the one from Greek mythology who ferried dead souls across the river Styx to Hades. If The Boatman's Call is the final exorcism of Cave's romantic demon(s), then who knows what surprises he will reveal when he gains the other shore.

--Philip Chrissopoulos