Nick Cave does a “Blue Steel” pose from “Zoolander”
I’ve never completely bought all the stuff people say about Bob Dylan, but I believe it about Nick Cave. The man is a lyrical maelstrom.
Sure, there’s that generation gap, as I’m much closer in age to Cave than Dylan, but there’s also the fact that the broody-browed Australian, himself no stranger to allusions, speaks to the common man, not just about the common man. But maybe it’s just that Cave barks out his lines like a ship’s master, leaving no room for argument, while Dylan kind of struggles to exhale his words, like there’s gristle mixed in with the meat.
I’m not really here to topple Zimmerman off his little pedestal. I bring up Dylan to elevate the talent of king Bad Seed, who still has a good 10 years to go before we find out whether he sells (re-sells?) his soul in a car commercial. Which I seriously doubt.
“Tupelo,” the opening track to The Bad Seeds’ second album, 1985’s “The Firstborn is Dead,” is a gritty, apocalyptic sermon served up tongue in cheek, but thoroughly deadpan. It’s an homage to the blues and to its holy host — Tupelo, Miss.-born Elvis Presley. It’s based on a real event, a tornado that Elvis survived as a tot in 1936, but took 216 other lives in Tupelo.
“Tupelo” is a tale of two Kings. The comparison of Elvis to Jesus (as well as “the Beast”) parodies the act of idolatry, be it via religion or celebrity worship. Cave skewers fame itself in the closing line: “You will reap just what you sow.” All of this nightmarish imagery — “they listen to the beating of their blood / The sandman’s mud!” — hurled by Cave at the microphone, as Mick Harvey sounds like he’s using flippers for drumsticks and Barry Adamson lays down a slick, darkwave bass groove.
The rest of the album’s killer, by the way, particularly the closing track, “Blind Lemon Jefferson,” in honor of the artist considered to be the father of Texas blues. “Firstborn” revels in the corpses of early bluesmen, just as it sneers at the cyborg dreamers with horse-show-hat-like hairstyles who were just then whoring it up on MTV.