ESSAY BY JIM SCLAVUNOS
Let Love In, the eighth studio album by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, was originally released in 1994. Their first full-length studio album in over two years, Let Love In preserves the same line-up (Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld, Conway Savage, Martyn Casey and Thomas Wydler) as established on its two immediate predecessors: Henry’s Dream (1992), the band’s troubled collaboration with producer David Briggs, and Live Seeds (1993), an interim concert compilation.
The novelty of recording in America with a “name” producer now long behind them, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds returned to familiar turf, choosing to conduct both demo and album sessions in their accustomed habitats of the UK and Australia. In September 1993, recording proper for Let Love In commenced at London’s Townhouse III Studios (formerly The Who’s Ramport studio, purpose-built for Quadrophenia), and the album was completed and mixed at Metropolis in Melbourne by the end of that same year.
Producer/engineer and long-time confederate Tony Cohen was reinstated to preside over the sessions, and a veritable “Who’s Who” array of Australian guest musicians were called in to lend a hand with the overdubs: former Birthday Party band mate Rowland S. Howard and Beasts of Bourbon singer Tex Perkins lent their backing vocals to “Do You Love Me”, as did The Triffids’ Dave McComb to “Lay Me Low”; while Warren Ellis makes his (uncharacteristically low profile) debut on a Bad Seeds recording, playing violin alongside Robin Casinader on Mick Harvey’s sumptuous string arrangements for “Ain’t Gonna Rain Anymore” and “Do You Love Me? Part 2”.
Artwork depicting the lyric sheet-festooned area around the piano gives some indication of the obsessive mood permeating the sessions, which Nick ascribes at least in part to the massive amounts of amphetamine being consumed during the sessions. “Tony was lost in his own world,” muses Nick. “Head bent down over that mixing desk, not listening to what anybody had to say about anything, waving his hands his hands around and screaming abuse at us. We would go in there in the morning and come back in the evening and Tony would still be working on the same sound, talking to himself.”
In the end, Cohen’s mania somehow suffuses the entire album with a remarkable sense of presence that heightens the sense of immediacy and urgent intimacy in the songs. “When I hear it, I’m surprised at the actual sound of it; it doesn’t sound like the kind of record we would normally make,” demurs Cave. “It sizzles, like every sound had a little too much time devoted to it; but, for sure, it has it’s unique sound.”
Nick, for his part, became as absorbed in minutiae as Tony, literally spending two days and nights trying to seamlessly render his oscillator solo in “Red Right Hand”. “Occasionally a Bad Seed would put their head in the door and go ‘Oh Jesus…’ and walk out again,” he discloses. “I don’t know why someone didn’t just stop me.”
“Warren claims to have played violin on a couple of songs. I am still not entirely convinced he was there. I never saw him,” says Nick, “but if you listen to the string section on Do You Love Me Part 2 there is a certain lugubrious tone to it that we have grown to love and expect from Mr. Ellis. Also it is completely out of tune. And while we are on the subject, Mick’s string arrangement has about 7000 too many notes in it for my liking. But I can’t really complain, because I spent an entire week, preparing the artwork for the inner sleeve, sticking little pieces of paper onto other little pieces of paper in a cupboard somewhere.”
Exacting details and sizzling production aside, much of the potency of Let Love In lies purely in the riveting intensity of its songs. The sinister inexorability and explosive dynamics of “Red Right Hand” and “Loverman” make for the album’s most climactic moments; but pervading the landscape around those melodramatic peaks is a feeling of yearning vulnerability and aching remorse previously untapped in Cave’s lyrics. The songs “Do You Love Me” and its reprise, as well as the title track — even “Thirsty Dog” — all exemplify this tender desperation; but especially “Nobody’s Baby Now”, which Cave claims he wrote for Johnny Cash. “Rick Rubin asked me to write a song for him. I sat down and wrote that but I liked it too much and didn’t send it.”
A singular aspect of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ working process and the convoluted evolution a song can undertake is hinted at on a non-album track that appeared on the B-side of the third single. “Where The Action Is” (one of the bonus tracks included in the re-mastered 5.1 edition) is the natal version of its A-side “Red Right Hand”. According to Thomas Wydler, it grew from an impromptu jam at a demo session: “I just started playing this beat, and then Harvey played this bass riff, and Nick sung over it.”
As usual running hard against the grain of pop/rock culture in a year otherwise dominated by grunge, Let Love In nonetheless climbed to #12 on the 1994 UK charts and #8 in Australia, the highest positions occupied by a Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album up to that point. “There are some really good songs on Let Love In, a bunch of really strong songs,” affirms Cave. “We knew what we were going to do when we went into the studio with that record.”