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Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Kicking Against the Pricks (1986)
Producer: Flood - Mark Ellis, Tony Cohen
I'm Gonna Kill That Woman
Sleeping Annaleah (Weeping Annaleah)
Long Black Veil
The Singer (The Folk Singer)
All Tomorrow's Parties
By The Time I Get To Phoenix
The Hammer Song
Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart
Jesus Met the Woman at the Well
The Carnival is Over
Kicking Against the Pricks is the third album by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and is made up entirely of cover songs. The title of the album is derived from a passage in the Bible, which reads in the King James translation: "And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." Some other translations (including mine) render the word for a prick (a sharp wooden object - no jokes, please), goad instead.
So what's new for the Bad Seeds this time round? Well, they are joined for the first time by drummer Thomas Wydler, who I must say does an excellent job throughout. I also tend to think of Kicking Against the Pricks as the first album in which Nick Cave consistently sings in a conventional manner, rather than using his voice box as a rolling sea of inhumane noises.
The album starts with Nick's take on Phil Rosenthal's Muddy Waters (Phil Rosenthal is a singer-songwriter who eventually became a member of the band The Seldom Scene, who have been functioning since the 1970's). From the off it is obvious to see how this album is going to go, as Nick turns the majority of songs into a unique and standalone experience, separate from their original counterparts; this opening song is no different. True, the song wasn't upbeat in the first place, but Nick turns it into an anguished expression of grief and loss, or if you will a dirge of epic proportions. The opening vocals are truly terrorizing, "Mary, grab the baby, the river is rising... muddy water - taking back the land..."
The ugliest moment on the album is the cover of John Lee Hooker's I'm Gonna Kill That Woman. This disturbed blues tirade is completely 'Caved In' and the lyrics are purged from Nick's lips in an entirely psychotic and unhinged performance. How do the Bad Seeds sound? I don't think that demonic and chilling is a fair representation of the sheer volume and density of what takes place, but I'm at a loss for better words.
Cave's take on Johnny Cash's The Folk Singer is another top depiction of a familiar song. It is certainly the most rehearsed and restrained piece on the LP, as Nick sounds in complete control of his vocals as he recites the lyrics with next to no distance between his voice and the microphone - you can almost feel the microphone cowering under his forceful presence.
Nick's take on Black Betty makes for a weird and wild rendition of this classic blues song. Even if you have no interest in purchasing this album, I still recommend that you look up this particular cover. It mimics the original version in that there isn't any true instrumentation to speak of, just hand claps and minimal percussion. The quality of the song is open to discussion, but the confidence in Nick's performance sources magnetism from within.
Roy Orbison's love song, Running Scared, is given a make over in that it no longer features a happy ending and that Nick is left high and dry by his lover, as she runs into the arms of the romantic competition. In terms of the musicality on offer, it doesn't stray too far away from the original, meaning that Orbison fans can still enjoy this classic.
There are a few moments which don't work as well as others. For example By the Time I Get to Phoenix isn't innovative in the slightest, and is downright disappointing after listening to Isaac Hayes' legendary 20 minute adaptation moments before. It's basically the same song you have heard many times before, but this time has the novelty of Nick's karaoke croon. It could also be argued that an earlier track on the album, Sleeping Annaleah, was an out-and-out odd choice. Why on earth would Nick want to cover a Tom Jones song? However, the worst thing about the song is not its roots, but the horribly discordant musicianship.
We already know that Nick Cave loves the Bible - the title of the album gave that away, but a further indication is his rendition of the traditional song Jesus Met the Woman at the Well. The Bad Seeds do an expert job with the backing vocals and Mick Harvey in particular should be applauded for his sharp picking on the guitar.
Nick cave goes back to Australian roots to close the album, with his interpretation of The Seekers' The Carnival Is Over. The original is a thing of boundless splendour and one of my favourite love songs, so you'd have to be a fool to attempt to better it. Needless to say, Nick plays it a little safe, but still turns in a very respectful and appealing take on this classic, with the band managing to keep up appearances and flesh out the instrumentation.
So, is Kicking Against the Pricks worth buying? I'd say most definitely. I wouldn't blame any of you for being cautious of any album of covers, as more often that not it show up the musicians' artistic stagnation. But what we have here is very different and is truly the best all covers album that I have yet had the pleasure of hearing. And Nick Cave fans needn't worry about the credibility of this album as he makes 90% of the songs his own edition.
Buy with confidence and thank me later!
Read more reviews at www.danielkempreviews.co.uk
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Muddy Water
2 By The Time I Get To Phoenix
3 I'm Gonna Kill That Woman
4 Sleeping Anleah
5 Long Black Veil
6 Hey Joe
8 All Tomorrow's Parties
9 Hammer Song
10 Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart
11 Jesus Met The Woman At The Well
12 Carnival Is Ove