Once a week or so I will challenge my readers (reader?) to spend some time listening to a couple of albums that I have deemed as classics. Some will be old favorites, while some will be more obscure records that you may not be aware of – but should be. You will hear some great old (and old-ish) music, and maybe be more interesting to your friends as a result.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Let Love In (1994)
My exposure to Nick Cave began with my viewing of the classic cinematic masterpiece Dumb and Dumber back in the mid-90s. In particular, the scene where Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) is robbed by a little old lady in a motorized cart. In this hilarious scene, a dark and spooky but catchy tune called “Red Right Hand” plays. I suspect this is where most people’s knowledge of Nick Cave ends, but several years ago I took a deep dive into his work. His career has been up and down, to be sure, but for my money this record is by far his best work.
Let Love In is at once an emotional and dark record. Nick is heartbroken, sad, and probably a little dangerous. This, my friends, is right up my alley. The themes here are hurt, heartache, sadness, and angst. The record begins with the incredibly haunting “Do You Love Me?”, with its fantastic piano melody and booming inquisitive stalker-esque lyric “Do you love me, like I love you?”. That song is a gem, and one of my favorites. Things mellow out on the next track, the forlorn “Nobody’s Baby Now”, but pick right back up in intensity with “Loverman”, the ultimate stalker ballad. Metallica did a metal cover of this on their under-rated covers album Garage Inc., but the original shines in its awkward creepy brilliance. “Jangling Jack” is pure demented abrasiveness, in the vein of second-act Tom Waits.
Finally, we reach the pinnacle of the album, the absolute perfection that is “Red Right Hand”, “Let Love In”, and “Thirsty Dog”. On “Red Right Hand”, we hear of a man who is there to help with whatever you need – but we learn that he is indeed, Satan himself. “Let Love In” informs us that the biggest mistake Nick ever made was to let some love into his life, and he warns us against the same fate should it come knocking at the door. “Thirsty Dog” is a bit of one-man call and answer in which he (sarcastically?) apologizes for whatever he has done wrong, but it feels more based in contempt and aggression than true remorse.
“Ain’t Gonna Rain Anymore” is a solid sad bastard song, and the last great track on the record. “Lay Me Low” is fine, and the second version of “Do You Love Me?” seems superfluous to me, but all in all, this is a songwriting and musical tour de force and is worth your exploration. If you are awesome enough to already know this record, I won’t need to tell you that it is worth your time to check out again.
Key Tracks: “Do You Love Me?”, “Let Love In”, “Red Right Hand”
Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms (1985)
Mark Knopfler and crew were on top of the world in 1985, and it is pretty easy to see why. Try to take yourself back to a time when terrestrial radio and MTV were the only outlets for music. No internet, no iTunes, no Spotify. Just lots and lots of crappy pop and shitty hair metal. Then, along comes a band with blues-rock credentials and riffs for days: Dire Straits. This record is so solid that it belongs in the Library of Congress (maybe it’s there, I don’t know).
Everyone reading this has heard the first three songs on this record, because they are both insanely popular and insanely great. “So Far Away” laments a relationship that is distant, although Mark wishes it were otherwise. Of course the guitar riff is immediately recognizable and catchy, as per the Dire Straits modus operandi. “Money for Nothing” was the smash hit of the summer of that year, basically breaking MTV and rock radio. This 8 ½ minute masterpiece is actually a riff on the crappy artists who were making bank just by knowing how to (sort of) play a guitar on MTV. You may recognize this lyric: “That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it; play the guitar on the MTV. That ain’t working, that’s the way you do it, money for nothing and your chicks for free”. Or maybe this one, a personal favorite (apologies for the non-PC language, this was the 80s): “See that little fa**ot with the earring and the makeup, ya buddy, that’s his own hair; that little fa**ot got his own jet airplane, that little fa**ot is a millionaire”. “Walk of Life” is immediately recognizable, with an incredibly catchy keyboard riff. This one has been featured in several commercials, and covered by many contemporary bands, most notably a recent interpretation by Roadkill Ghost Choir (who kick a lot of ass). These three are no stranger to anyone, and alone would make for a great/classic album. Just like any good TV infomercial: but wait, there’s more!
While each song on this record is worth a listen, there are two more greats here: “Ride Across the River” and “The Man’s Too Strong”. The sonic palette on the former is rich and so damn tasty, and this is a simple song lyrically, telling us that Mark is “gonna ride across the river, deep and wide; ride across the river to the other si-i-i-de”. On the latter, we are reminded (over a crushing guitar attack and drum onslaught) that “the man” is ever-present, bigger, and stronger than you and your dreams. Powerful stuff, and a pleasant blast to a simpler time.