I love Tender Prey. For me, it’s the culmination of the Seeds through their first era, a powerful combination of punk-influenced music and songwriting well beyond the quality of most punk albums.
But I also like left-turns. And I can imagine a world in which this left turn into far softer, more traditional singer-songwriter type music, could be viewed as a brave and creative left turn. If I had been an adult music fan and a Cave fan at the time this came out, maybe I would have felt that way.
But instead, I am listening to this record 30 years later, and I know the majority of Cave’s albums, if not every single one of them. I know where they went and that is probably the problem I am having here.
People point out this record is the beginning of the second version of the Seeds – the kinder, gentler Seeds as I call them – but that’s a too neat revisionist look at it. This band still put out Murder Ballads half a decade later, a very violent album – if not musically as much as the ’80s Seeds, certainly lyrically.
It’s an early step in their evolution from post-punk to something more conventional. Which is fine. But that’s my issue, as it feels very much like the transitional album it is.
That’s something I wouldn’t mind if this was one of Cave’s best sets of songs but it’s not. Now, this is Nick Cave, one of the great songwriters of his generation and one of my favourites. The songs are good. But they’re not consistently great.
One might make an argument that Cave didn’t truly come into his own as one of the great songwriters of his generation until Let Love In or, really, The Boatman’s Call. Before that, his inconsistent songwriting was supported, on his best albums, by his incredible backing band.
Now, maybe I don’t entirely buy that argument. I love Tender Prey, as I said. But I think it might be true more often than not. And I think it’s true here, which is why I don’t love this record: Cave’s songs are alright, some are better than others. But the powerful, violent Seeds have been neutered for this safer, more “mature” sound. That’s fine when the songs are of the quality of The Boatman’s Call or No More Shall We Part. But they’re not, are they?