Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – He Wants You / Babe, I’m On Fire (Mute Records single, 2003)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 'He Wants You / Babe, I'm On Fire' 10" artwork

mute records | 10″/cd mute290 | 02/06/2003

The contrast between the two tracks from Nocturama that were released together as the album’s second single couldn’t be more divergent. ‘He Wants You’ is the sort of high balladry that Nick Cave had made his own by the time of the fourteenth Bad Seeds album, a sort of more embellished and plaintive version of the introspection that had first become evident around the time of The Boatman’s Call. Only, somehow, with its filigree piano lines and quiet, romantic murmurings, it seems a more exaggerated version of that period. It really is a beautiful song, one that crams so many illustrative gestures into its verses before an elegant simplicity takes over. The song appears to describe a man who will do absolutely anything he can do to get the woman of his dreams; but this isn’t the kind of obsessed character a far wilder Cave described on something like ‘From Her To Eternity’ – this is a far gentler, resolute and upstanding man. ‘He is straight and he is true,‘ he sings and we’re left thinking the persuer is a pretty nice bloke.

The wilder side of Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds comes to the fore on the edit of ‘Babe, I’m On Fire’, cut down from its fourteen minute album version to a tidy four minutes, wherein frantic organ lines and stream-of-consciousness lyrics cover everything from terrorism, right-wing politics, agriculture and even manages a nice backslapping name check of the members of the band. ‘Babe, I’m On Fire’ is urgent, messy and a bit of a musical trainwreck that feels improvised and sprawling and doesn’t appear to want to take itself too seriously, a band letting their collective hair down at the behest of their leader.

The single was backed with two extra tracks from the Nocturama sessions. ‘Little Ghost Song’ hinges on the same chorus from the album’s ‘Right Out Of Your Hand’ but sees Cave and Conway Savage harmonising unevenly together. Previous vocal pairings of the two have always been pretty tight, but this one doesn’t gel so neatly, leaving the listener wondering whose voice they’re meant to follow. ‘Everything Must Converge’ is far better. A spare, loose reflection that fate ultimately binds us all together, ‘Everything Must Converge’ has a lovely gospel quality to it, lots of reference points from nature and a really beautiful sound. It’s bold and romantic without ever becoming over-sugared, featuring some restrained organ riffing and a fantastic wandering harmonica melody that seems to usher in a totally unexpected reggae-infused segment. Understated and remarkable.

Track listing:

A1. / 1. He Wants You (Edit)
A2. / 4. Everything Must Converge
B1. / 2. Babe, I’m On Fire (Edit)
B2. / 3. Little Ghost Song

Written 2013 / published 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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