A love ballad, a torch song, a secular hymn, a lover’s lament, a eulogy to a loved one, Into My Arms is hard to classify. Cave has spoken of the grief and sense of loss he endured at the age of twenty when his father Colin was killed in a car accident, how the sombreness of his bereavement touched his very soul and forced him to question the reality of love and commitment, and re-evaluate what is lasting and what is ephemeral.
At the time of writing Into My Arms he was emotionally bruised after ending his marriage to Viviane Carneiro (above), the mother of his first child Luke, and the failure of a more turbulent and doomed affair with English singer PJ Harvey (below). Cave wrote the song whilst in rehab, he explained to Mojo magazine March 2009: “In the first couple of days when you haven’t slept, you’re withdrawing from drugs, you’re sick. You try and make the best of a bad situation.”
Simultaneously Cave and the Bad Seeds were in the process of writing material for another album, Murder Ballads, a more carnal, homicidal, and demented suite of songs would be hard to imagine, and he juggled this task with interpreting the more sensitive, restrained, and romantic content of The Boatman’s Call, the album from which Into My Arms was lifted.
The emotional landscape in which Into My Arms was conceived, and painfully delivered, was conflicted, schismatic, and for that reason the song is deeply affecting. There’s the impression that it is being sung directly to one person, and it was, one PJ Harvey. In other songs on the album he obsesses about Polly Jean’s face, her mannerisms, and facets of her character in West Country Girl, Black Hair, Green Eyes, and (Are You) The One I’ve Been Waiting For?
Cave has commented on the phone call from Harvey which ended their relationship, his ongoing drug addiction was a problem, but they were also moving in different directions professionally “Polly’s commitment to her own work was probably as narcissistic and egomaniacal as my own, although I was so deep into my own shit that I can’t really comment on this with any certainty. I remember our time together with great fondness though, they were happy days, and the phone call hurt; but never one to waste a good crisis, I set about completing The Boatman’s Call. There is a universality about the song’s theme of failed relationships which invites empathy, whilst its tone and sense of vulnerable introspection were a surprising shift from the previously dark, profane, and abrasive themes of much of Cage’s earlier work. Yet Cave maintained his arch tone when evaluating the inspiration for the album “I’d got dumped … and here I was making this great statement- about some fu…ng sheila … I was so surprised I almost dropped my syringe.”
The misanthropic Cave had often evoked liturgical imagery to create a reverential ambience or to anchor a song somewhere between a fearful and a retributive God, and a more benign and benevolent spirituality. Here he draws the link between broken bonds of love and friendship and broken articles of faith, this is how close Cave gets to reflecting the same spirituality which inhabits Leonard Cohen’s majestic Hallelujah.
Into My Arms had been part of Cave’s set list since 1995 before it was recorded two years later, piano and bass underscored a simple arrangement, and the poignant lyrics and Cave’s soulful and sincere vocals, deliver great emotional impact, has there ever been a more dramatic, introspective opening line to a song than “I don’t believe in an interventionist God /But I know, darling that you do / But if I did I would kneel down and ask him / Not to intervene when it came to you.”
The promo video featured Nick Cave in a stark monochrome setting, harshly-lit, he adopts a prayerful stance as he sings straight to camera, interspersed by the anguished faces of grieving people. Directed by Brit Jonathon Glazer, Cave praised the video but thought that its depressing imagery overrode the melancholic optimism he had intended to convey, however Cave’s grimly wry baritone does have a certain mordant, melodramatic theatricality about it, and doesn’t readily convey optimism or exaltation.
Cave sang Into My Arms at INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence’s funeral in 1997, on that day, it was a eulogy to a loved one. Below Nick Cave with his goddaughter Tiger Lily Hutchence.