2014/2015 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Vinyl Reissue Series; Remastering Overseen by Mick Harvey
The second Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album was recorded in late-1984 at Hansa Studios in Berlin. Co-produced with Flood, it's rich with references to the blues and bluesmen, the American South, and especially Elvis Presley. Its striking title was a nod to Jesse Garon Presley, Elvis' stillborn identical twin. Cave seemed to be wondering whether The King, deeply conflicted, had suffered from survivor guilt, both at birth and in later years. There is something uniquely heroic, too, about The Firstborn Is Dead, one of the most brutal things ever captured on record. If its predecessor had introduced us to a new howling wolf, here was a sly fox whose antipathy towards conventional vocal stylings and formulaic song formats invented a fresh vocabulary. Eschewing cliché, the album roars with pain and anger, rings out with the wit of a natural storyteller, and blossoms with the vitality of romance.
"Tupelo," entering with thunderclaps and lightning bolts like R. Dean Taylor's last will and testament in "Indiana Wants Me," makes an unforgettable opener. Tupelo was of course the birthplace of Elvis. The song is loosely based on John Lee Hooker's "Talking Blues," which tells of a great flood arriving. Cave's reading factors in the birth of Elvis (and twin) and the equally apocalyptic Second Coming of Christ. "Say Goodbye To The Little Girl Tree" sees a man wishing the young girl he loves could stay forever young. It's not a murder ballad as such, but a suicide ballad, as the narrator finds the best/only way out of the quandary. "Knockin' On Joe" adopts a term used by prisoners in the U.S. to describe the desperate measures some would take to avoid hard labor while serving time: damaging their own fingers, hands, legs, like hot-headed Cool Hand Lukes. "Wanted Man" takes an atypical Bob Dylan song and turns it from monochrome to multi-colored.
The Firstborn Is Dead was released in June 1985 and almost made the top 50. It's an album that helped to define Cave's new role, his niche on the map as fire-and-brimstone preacher and post-modern ironist, as a wizard with words, as a master of the heartfelt howl that's tinted with a twisted smile. Much of his work since has taken the blues as a basis, before spiraling off into exhilarating new sparks and shards...