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Music

30 years of Nick Cave's intoxicating album 'Henry's Dream'

@SamWKemp

Coming from the soft-edged balladry of Nick Cave’s 1990 post-rehabilitation album Good Son, it seems that Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds wanted to prove that they still had some menace in their system. Alas, the record they ended up with Henry’s Dream was far from what they intended. While a distinct sense of blood-lust ripples throughout this studio offering, it also features some of the most accessible and, dare I say, radio-friendly songs ever to fall from the rusted nib of Cave’s quill.

By 1992, the good ship Bad Seeds was finally floating on still waters. Cave had settled into his new life in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the band’s lineup was at last cemented. With this new bout of good health, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds started work on Henry’s Dream, for which they hired Neil Young producer David Briggs. The idea was that Briggs would help the group craft a record blending the cult appeal of records like Kicking Against The Pricks and The Firstborn is Dead with the accessibility of The Good Son. The record saw a besuited Cave hone his balladry to a fine point, contrasting his newfound sensitivity with frequently brutal and nihilistic imagery.

Henry’s Dream is an album with two faces. Throughout the 1992 studio offering, art-goth sea shanties such as ‘Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry’ pull away at themselves, eventually giving way to uncharacteristically euphoric acid-tinged soul ballads, only to be replaced with more Vampiric evocations of Cave’s twisted soul. This constant back-and-forth between the anarchic and the radio-friendly is one of the most enveloping aspects of Henry’s Dream; it’s also one of the most frustrating.

Thankfully, Cave’s provocations paid off when the album hit the shelves n 1992. For critics and fans who remained unimpressed by Cave and company’s more anarchical offerings, Henry’s Dream, with its undeniably harrowing appeal, finally provided evidence of what all the fuss was about. For an audience waist-deep in the teen angst of grunge, Cave’s LP offered a more ornate depiction of melancholy, one that that seemed less Eddie Vedder and more Edgar Allen Poe. Cave, on the other hand, was far from satisfied with the sound of Henry’s Dream. The 2010 remastered version evens out some of the sonic peaks and troughs that plagued the original recording, but it still feels a little uneven on a thematic level.

Still, when Henry’s Dream settles into a groove it really shines. While it might have seemed a little sickly at the time, the album’s best moment comes with the arrival of ‘Straight To Me’, which features The Bad Seeds playing at peak ability. With its quasi-mysticism and Blonde on Blonde organ arrangements, it’s one of the most confident and euphoric examples of Cave’s songwriting. Today, that track stands out largely because it foreshadows 1997’s beloved ‘Into My Arms’. With 30 years of distance between us and Henry’s Dream, it’s easy to view the album as transitional. But that would be to assume Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds failed because they were unable to fully realise their vision for the project, whereas it’s equally possible that in falling short of their ideals, they came out with something far more fascinating.

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