The Mercy Seat

Album: Tender Prey (1987)
  • The lead single from Tender Prey, this harrowing track finds Nick Cave taking on the persona of a death row prisoner, awaiting execution. As Cave's appointment with the electric chair gets closer, he moves from pleading his innocence to admitting his crime. During a 2017 interview with The Sun, it was suggested there's some ambiguity over the man's guilt. Cave retorted:

    "You mean, do I know what the f--k I'm talking about? I think that's why we can continue to play it at pretty much every concert. It remains mysterious and ambiguous but genuinely thoughtful."
  • The anthem of death row defiance is laden with allusions to Christianity; the mercy seat is both the electric chair and a symbol of the throne of God, where following his execution, Cave will be judged.
  • Johnny Cash is a man whose entire life found him hovering close to the mercy seat. He recorded a stripped back cover of this song for his 2000 album American III: Solitary Man. Cash's version is pointedly unambiguous, the death row inmate declares himself "totally innocent', as opposed to the original's "nearly wholly Innocent."

    "Pure Johnny Cash," said Cave to Mojo of the country legend's cover. "Been f---ed over by the system, he's an innocent man in jail, he's going to die."

    "I always thought it was clear that the guy did it," he continued. "What's in question is the concept of guilt and innocence, in the sense that he may have done it but that doesn't mean he's a guilty person in a broader sense. My version is more conflicted. Which is pure Nick Cave, I suppose."
Please sign in or register to post comments.


Be the first to comment...

Band NamesFact or Fiction

Was "Pearl" Eddie Vedder's grandmother, and did she really make a hallucinogenic jam? Did Journey have a contest to name the group? And what does KISS stand for anyway?

The Evolution of "Ophelia"Song Writing

How four songs portray Shakespeare's character Ophelia.

TV Theme SongsFact or Fiction

Was a Beatles song a TV theme? And who came up with those Fresh Prince and Sopranos songs?

Soul Train Stories with Stephen McMillianSong Writing

A Soul Train dancer takes us through a day on the show, and explains what you had to do to get camera time.

Barney Hoskyns Explores The Forgotten History Of Woodstock, New YorkSong Writing

Our chat with Barney Hoskyns, who covers the wild years of Woodstock - the town, not the festival - in his book Small Town Talk.

Goodbye, Hello: Ten Farewell Tour Fake-OutsSong Writing

The 10 biggest "retirement tours" that didn't take.