Straight To You (N Cave) 1992 and Red Right Hand (N Cave/M Harvey/T Wydler) – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 1994
On 1992’s album Henry’s Dream, the band had never sounded so powerful and confident, this was the first album on which Australians Conway Savage (keyboards) and Martyn P Casey (bass) would play, while Mick Harvey brought his diverse musical skills to the mix via piano, organ, and drums. Cave gave us his most unashamedly straightforward romantic song to date here with the sweeping, Bob Dylanesque emo-rocker, Straight To You and also included his personal favourite, the menacing Jack The Ripper on the B- side. Neil Young’s go-to producer David Briggs had not satisfied Cave’s standards and a Live Seeds version of the same album was issued later in 1992, to better reflect the sound that Cave was seeking, and it climbed to #46 locally and #29 in the UK.
Red Right Hand is very much from the southern Gothic, conflicted religious iconography canon of the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds songs, a dark ominous, alternative rock track, and one of Cave’s signature songs. It was taken off the seminal 1994 album, Let Love In, which was a more balanced collection of songs with some reflecting a gentler more reflective lyricism, alongside other more demonically – tormented songs usually associated with Cave’s fire and brimstone approach. This song sits comfortably within the Grand Guignol murder ballads genre, with the dark and mysterious Red Right Hand invoking the spirit of John Milton’s Paradise Lost in which he refers to the divine but vengeful hand of God. Cave would return to this theme two years later with the opening song on the Murder Ballads album (1996), Song of Joy, when he describes the crime scene – “It seems he has done many, many more, / he quotes John Milton on the walls in the victim’s blood / The police are investigating at tremendous cost / In my house he wrote ‘his red right hand’ / That, I’m told, is from Paradise Lost.” Which is a reference to Paradise Lost (Book 11. 170-174), from which Cave appropriated this song title : “What if the breath that kindled those grim fires, / Awaked, should blow them into sevenfold rage, / And plunge us in the flames; or from above / Should intermitted vengeance arm again / His red right hand to plague us?”.Besides arcane literary references, the red right hand is also a Celtic symbol of Ulster, Northern Ireland, as reflected in the name and symbolism of the Red Hand Commando (RHC), an Ulster loyalist paramilitary group who were linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The RHC used the Red Right Hand symbolism to intimidate and wreak vengeance on their religious adversaries during the Irish “Troubles”, often by removing the right hand of Protestants who had spied for the IRA, the right hand being symbolic of the hand of Judas, that had received the thirty pieces of silver to betray Christ.The album track was trimmed from just over 6 minutes to 4.48 when released as a single but lost none of its menace, drama, or threat of damnation in the process.Musically it is a sparse slow-burning song which uses subtle percussion (drums, bells, temple block, shaker), bass and guitar to take us slowly through Nick Cave’s nightmarish vision, to the climax where the emotional stakes are raised “You’re a microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan/ Designed and directed by his red right hand,” as organ flourishes heighten the drama and underscore the ethereal and other-worldly nature of the journey we have just taken with the misanthropic Black Crow King. This was the first album on which violinist Warren Ellis (above with Cave) played, so beginning a musical partnership with Cave that would encompass the next twenty-five years and nine albums.
Although it did not chart highly the song has become a live performance favorite and been appropriated as the theme music for the Scream movie franchise, TV’s the X-Files, the ABC TV series Jack Irish, and most effectively for the devilishly violent and noirish BBC drama series Peaky Blinders, and most incongruously to promote South Australia’s Barossa Valley red wine region.PJ Harvey, Roger Daltrey, The Arctic Monkeys, Fidlar, Laura Marling and others have recorded cover versions, seeking to find the DNA hidden in the nooks and crannies of this song. In 2004 music historian Kim Beissel claimed that Red Right Hand was loosely based on the 1987 Tom Waits song Way Down In The Hole, a hot gospeler-inspired song by Waits about a man who is seeking to find the righteous path with the help of a “berserk evangelist”, which became the theme song for the classic TV series The Wire.