The Firstborn is Dead by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Review
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds second album, The Firstborn is Dead was recorded in Hans Tonstudio in Berlin. This was the studio where David Bowie recorded two of his Berlin trilogy and Iggy Pop recorded Lust For Life and some of The Idiot.
The title, The Firstborn is Dead had biblical origins but also refers to Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin, Jesse Garon Presley. A subject also covered by Scott Walker in Jesse from his troubling 2006 album, The Drift. This theme is developed by Cave on the magnificent opening track, Tupelo. Tupelo was the town where Elvis Presley was born and the scene of a tornado and flood in 1936. Opening with a mighty crack of thunder, the song is loosely based on a John Lee Hooker song, Tupelo Flood. Whereas the original deals mainly with the human suffering endured as a result of the flood, Cave references the birth of Elvis an adds a biblical dimension. This is an early classic from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and even when considering the weighty subject matter, its seven minutes fly by.
Say Goodbye to the Little Girl Tree maintains the level of gloom and doom. The light-hearted musical accompaniment of picked guitars and swinging drums by no means reflect the song itself. Here Cave sings in the character of a father who plans to murder his adolescent daughter.
Train Long-Suffering is a so-so track reminiscent of Click Clack from Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s Spotlight Kid album. Cave’s song doesn’t quite have the power and wit of Click Clack but Blixa Bargeld plays some fine guitar in his own unique style.
Black Crow King has the kind of sparse instrumentation that is typical of the early Bad Seeds. Nick Cave projects a suitably sinister performance as the “keeper of the trodden corn”.
Knockin’ On Joe is prison slang for when an inmate deliberately injured in order to avoid hard labour. Here, Cave tells another Southern Gothic tale of a prisoner on death row who refuses his lover and accepts his fate. This is perhaps a forerunner of the epic The Mercy Seat from Cave’s Tender Prey album.
Wanted Man was written by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and featured on Cash’s 1969 album At San Quentin. Nick Cave received special permission to alter the lyrics so that the song made reference to some of Cave’s friends and associates.
The Firstborn is Dead closes with the twisted blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson. The narrative is inspired by the blues singer of the same name who died in mysterious circumstances. Cave’s lyrics describe Jefferson “tap-tapping” with his cane as a sinister presence lurks. A superb atmospheric track to close The Firstborn is Dead, Blixa Bargeld’s layered slide guitar holds constant note and occasionally breaks out for some lead lines. Barry Adamson’s bass punctuates the sound further increasing the tension.
The Firstborn is Dead showed a progression in Nick Cave’s song writing and also the musicianship of the Bad Seeds. The echoes of the Birthday Party are still present but much more distant than on From Her to Eternity. Cave’s interest in the blues and America’s deep South come to the fore but nobody else was playing blues like this in 1985. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were to create many highlights in the years that followed by The Firstborn is Dead is an often neglected masterpiece.
Rated Sound gives The Firstborn is Dead by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds a rating of 8/10.
The Firstborn is Dead (1985) by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Track Listing
2. Say Goodbye To The Little Girl Tree
3. Train Long-Suffering
4. Black Crow King
5. Knockin’ On Joe
6. Wanted Man
7. Blind Lemon Jefferson