In which Nick Cave describes a Kylie Minogue pop hit as ‘a harrowing portrait of humanity not dissimilar to that of the Old Testament Psalms’…
While writing a piece for sofa.com about the album The Boatman’s Call by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, I came across this quite stupendous lecture by Nick Cave in which he discusses love songs, God and the concept of ‘duende’ – a sort of inexpressible sadness or yearning.
But the section that really stood out for me was his analysis of Kylie Minogue’s hit pop record Better the Devil You Know, which he describes as “a harrowing portrait of humanity not dissimilar to that of the Old Testament Psalms.” Here is the passage in full:
“Better The Devil You Know” is one of pop music’s most violent and distressing love lyrics.
Say you wont leave me no more
I`ll take you back again
No more excuses, no no
Cause I´ve heard them all before
A hundred times or more
I´ll forgive and forget
If you say you´ll never go
Cause it’s true what they say
Better the devil you know
I know, I think I know the score
You say you love me, O boy
I can´t ask for more
I´ll come if you should call
When Kylie Minogue sings these words there is an innocence to her voice that makes the horror of this chilling lyric all the more compelling. The idea presented within this song, dark and sinister and sad – that all love relationships are by nature abusive and that his abuse, be it physical or psychological, is welcomed and encouraged, shows how even the most innocuous of love songs has the potential to hide terrible human truths. Like Prometheus chained to his rock, so that the eagle can eat his liver each night, Kylie becomes love’s sacrificial lamb bleating an earnest invitation to the drooling, ravenous wolf that he may devour her time and time again, all to a groovy techno beat. “I´ll take you back. I´ll take you back again”. Indeed. Here the Love Songs becomes a vehicle for a harrowing portrait of humanity not dissimilar to that of the Old Testament Psalms. Both are messages to God that cry out into the yawning void, in anguish and self-loathing, for deliverance.