In April, 1992, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released what is widely regarded as one of their best albums. The album peaked at Number 29 in the U.K. albums chart and two singles were released with no significant success. The chart positions, (of lack of), underline that this artist is one for the long run rather than smash hit material – it’s probably better that way.
Nick Cave himself is no fan of the album citing poor production. The production, by David Briggs, is mostly very strong and I imagine there were other factors at play that influenced the artists own poor reflection on Henry’s Dream. Ask any Nick Cave fan their Top 3 albums, (by the said artist), and Henry’s Dream WILL be in their Top 3 and probably Number 1 on that list. Anyway, enough of lists:
Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry is musical, ragged and direct from the off. The vocal is delightfully word-heavy and distant orchestration burns away in the background. With a road movie vibe that the album artwork suggests the song wavers between soft blurs and solid stabs of attack. The vocal lines read (sound) like a book. Cave’s delivery of ‘until everything went black’ raises the stakes of what is already a great album opener.
I Had A Dream, Joe and the second song gets a comma too. The rattling urgency rises further than the album opener and Henry’s Dream already works like a charm of ragged real glory.
Straight To You was released as a single and it’s easy to see why Mute lifted this track for an attempt to chart. A torch song that is too strong to be considered a ballad. The song is accesible yet has a dark underbelly which saw it not really bother the charts which is more the record buying publics loss than anything else.
Brother, My Cup Is Empty and the urgency is back strong. “Brother My Cup Is Empty and I haven’t got a penny, but I but I buy no more whiskey I have to go home”. The song reeks of late night blues and the music indeed veers towards blues pulled through punk as steely sparse guitar occasionally interrupts the frontman.
Christina The Astonishing wavers in with a sound that is not a million miles away from Marc & The Mambas or indeed just solo Marc Almond. The storytelling vibe continues like few other artists can muster. Although hush the song still carries real gospel menace.
When I First Came To Town widens Henry’s Dream to a widescreen format. Conway Savage adds vocals in what could almost be the most one-sided duet ever recorded. Rising orchestration elevate the song further than the sound on preceding albums and by the time singular guitar crashes enter the song may already be inducing shivers of the best kind.
John Finn’s Wife adds that repetitive underling that Nick cave does vocally so well. Scraping guitar frets form around the vocal as the song changes gear to a more rousing sound. Continual slow musical development sees the song turn into a creeping epic. As the song reaches its climax bombs of sound drop before it blurs into a dreamy sublime state.
Loom Of The Land and the cinematic feel of Henry’s Dream indicates its ending. The song is slow but so burningly powerful. Word-play paints images that films may miss. Nick Cave commands via vocals so strong that the naked ear may metaphorically bleed.
Jack The Ripper closes Henry’s Dream with a dirty sound and raggedy rawcus rattle. Like a film giving you a final scene after the plot is done away with the song encapsulates the gospel punk vibe of the album in one easy to digest summarising pill.
Henry’s Dream takes Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds a step further than Tender Prey which I feel was his last great album preceding this. There is no Mercy Seat here but that hardly matters. Henry’s Dream is a stark, direct, honest and real album from a time when music was stagnating – pity everyone was dreaming when it came out and that it is only more retrospectively held in high-regard…