Out of all the Bad Seeds albums, Henry's Dream seems to be a bit underrated by fans & critics. Yet among a catalogue as diverse as theirs, Dream has a sound all its own.
While the preceding Good Son was more laid back & somber, Henry kicks off with the furious tumult of Papa Won't Leave You Henry. Delivered with snarling abandon, what ensues is a demented travelogue of mad heat, relentless rain & walls running red with "warm, arterial spray". And yet, it's all strangely off set by a chorus more fitting for a lullaby.
Between the driving likes of I Had a Dream Joe and Brother and My Cup Is Empty is the strikingly commercial sounding Straight to You. But lyrically speaking, this is anything but a typical love ballad. "Gone are the days of rainbows" for "the sparrows have sharpened their beaks"...The way Cave wields the chorus sometimes could be taken as a threat.
That's not to say Henry doesn't have its share of brooding moments. The haunting Loom of the Land is without question an album standout. As for the sparse, atmospheric Christina the Astonishing, the Bad Seeds have never recorded anything like it.
Perhaps most uncharacteristic is When I First Came to Town, featuring some truly world weary backing vocals from piano man Conway Savage. The liner notes state the song is based off of Karen Dalton's "Katie Cruel" but musically there's little resemblance. Starting with melodic acoustic guitar and ending in a yearning sweep of strings, the song's more fitting for the closing credits of some elegiac Western.
Speaking of Westerns, if Sam Peckinpah made one set in South America, John Finn's Wife would fit the bill. By far the album's most epic track, The Bad Seeds set the scene with mounting tension before Cave's narrative explodes, ending with a slow motion montage of the flies buzzing round "poor John Finn". Tongue in cheek and suitably perverse, it's a striking climax to the albums' most cinematic song.
Another thing that sets Henry apart is the fact it's the only Bad Seeds record to have an outside "producer". Under label pressure, they reluctantly went through the motions of a search; eventually alighting on whom they thought was the most "un-producer like": David Briggs. No doubt the man who helmed the control room for many a Neil Young classic seemed like a great idea at the time. Alas, it was not a match made in heaven. In the end, the masters were "borrowed" by Cave & then slipped to longtime Bad Seeds engineer, Tony Cohen to "salvage".
To hear it from the Bad Seeds themselves, Henry's Dream is an exercise in thwarted ambition. According to the liner notes, Cave was going for a "brutal, atonal" sound "bashed out on broken acoustic guitars". The kind of sound he heard from the street singers in his then adopted home in Brazil. If they failed at that, they stumbled on to something else instead: Something dark, furious and cinematic.
Lastly, there's some misrepresentation on Amazon's part in terms of the package. It's only 2 discs, not 3. As with all the previous in this collector's re-master series, Disc I is the re-mastered album & Disc II is an interview documentary w/ bonus tracks (Bluebird being a gem) & videos.