Your friendly neighborhood harbinger of the Apocalypse

I gingerly dropped the CD into the tray, put on my headphones, and pressed Play. This was a new album from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, which meant that I had absolutely no idea what was about to happen.
My first encounter with Nick Cave’s music took place several years ago and is an experience I remember well. The song was “The Mercy Seat,” and by the time it drew to a close–in a cacophany of strings, distortion, and tortured vocals–I felt emotionally exhausted. The song opens (as instruments are messily tuned and warmed up in the background) with a defiant declaration:

They came and took me from my room
And put me in Dead Row
(of which I am nearly wholly innocent).
And I say it again: I am not afraid to die.

I was instantly hooked. The song continued, building slowly in intensity, telling the story of a death-row inmate’s scared but defiant mental journey to the electric chair. He insists he’s innocent, but he knows he’s lying to himself. He looks to the cross of Christ for mercy, but knows he cannot escape the all-seeing, judging eye of God. He yearns for the release of death, but is terrified at the prospect of dying. You, the listener, feel the terror and panic and relief of the long walk towards the Chair, the Mercy Seat.
It’s an amazing, disturbing, glorious song.
Like I said, you never know what you’re going to get with Nick Cave. Musically, he’s what you’d get if you mixed rock, blues, and folk together and stirred in a healthy dose of Nine Inch Nails. He’s an agnostic fire-and-brimstone preacher, he’s a honey-tongued crooner, he’s a murderous prophet of doom. He can pull off a love song that opens with this line:

I don’t believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do.

…and somehow not sound completely ridiculous. (Actually, Nick Cave can be a bit ridiculous.)
So I wasn’t sure what was going to come out of the headphone speakers. A ballad about murder? A tender love song? A tired and angry tirade about a broken world? What I actually got managed to catch me completely off guard: Cave as an electrifyingly earnest street preacher, his booming baritone shouting out an actual sermon, backed by cranked-up-to-11 guitar riffs and an honest-to-God gospel choir:

Get ready for love! Praise Him!
Get ready for love! Praise Him!
Well, most of all nothing much ever really happens
And God rides high up in the ordinary sky
Until we find ourselves at our most distracted,
And the miracle that was promised creeps quietly by.
Calling every boy and girl
Calling all around the world
Get ready for love! Praise Him!
The mighty wave their hankies from their high-windowed palace
Sending grief and joy down in supportable doses
And we search high and low without mercy or malice
While the gate to the Kingdom swings shut and closes.
Praise Him til you’ve forgotten what you’re praising Him for;
Praise Him a little bit more.
Praise Him til you’ve forgotten what you’re praising Him for;
Then praise Him a little bit more…
Get ready for love! Praise Him!
I searched the seven seas and looked under the carpet
And browsed through the brochures that govern the skies
And I was just hanging around, doing nothing
And looked up to see His face burned in the retina of your eyes.

This is weird and wonderful and ludicrously catchy. I have no idea how serious Cave is being, or how many layers of irony I need to dig through before coming to the meaning and intent behind this tune. So I think I’ll just turn up the volume, lean back, and enjoy it.
Preach it, brother Cave!

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One Comment

  1. Ed Heil says:

    You could make a mixer tape with this song, and some of the more theological “can they possibly be serious?” Violent Femmes songs like “Faith” and “See My Ships”. 🙂

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