Red Right Hand

Red Right Hand - title

Crotchety Man is easily bored. Because of that he is always listening out for something different. Red Right Hand is deliciously different. The very first sound you hear is the Tang! of a tubular bell ringing out over a deep bass riff with punctuated organ chords and the soft swish of brushes sweeping taut snare drum skins. That’s an exceedingly rare combination in popular music and it conjures up a vivid mental picture.

Red Right Hand - face

The juju man is dancing slowly by an open fire shaking his rattle at the air and thrusting a hideous mask towards the heavens. His bare feet stomp across the dusty earth with a hypnotic rhythm. The fire crackles softly; smoke drifts before your eyes and perfumes your nostrils. Staring into scattered bones the half-god’s arms stretch up to the sky and a disembodied voice begins to chant.

The juju is strong. The spirits are telling your future: where you will go, what will happen to you.

Take a little walk …
Like a bird of doom  …
Where secrets lie …
You know you’re never coming back.

On a gathering storm comes a tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat with a red right hand.

Yes, you are going to meet a tall, dark stranger, and he is going to capture your heart.

The bass riff rolls on, the organ chords stab ominous sounds into your ears, and those brushes are still pattering along on that snare drum when the ground shudders to the boom of a kettle drum and the bell clangs loudly once more. It is the end of Act 1.

The juju man sways forward and the mesmerising voice picks up the story again.

He’ll wrap you in his arms, tell you that you’ve been a good boy.
He’ll rekindle all the dreams it took you a lifetime to destroy.
He’ll reach deep into the hole, heal your shrinking soul,
But there won’t be a single thing that you can do.
He’s a god, he’s a man, he’s a ghost, he’s a guru.

Boom! goes the kettle drum. Clang! goes the bell. And, as Act 2 fades out, the organ wraps you in a cotton wool tune, soothes away your terror and caresses your trembling soul. Out in the African bush the familiar rasp of cicadas accompanies the beat of the dance and in the distance a wild dog howls at the dying sun.

The bass rolls relentlessly on, the organ punches out chords again and the prophecies spill once more from the behind the magic mask. There are no specific predictions – no places, no people, no dates to be avoided. You are being swept along to an uncertain but inevitable doom.

You’re one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by his red right hand

Red Right Hand - juju dancers

Red Right Hand is a single taken from the 1994 album Let Love In by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It’s unusual in many ways. A cradle rocking rhythm carries utterly incongruous words of menace and foreboding. There’s almost no tune – what melody there is is confined to the instrumental breaks – but this is no dance track. The lead instrument is an electronic organ; there is no synthesiser listed in the album credits. At first Red Right Hand might sound like a rough backing track plus vocals but there are delightfully subtle effects in abundance: the main three-chord theme contains a jarring dissonance, for example, and there’s that fire-engine clang from the tubular bell. All in all it has a sublime aural texture that both soothes and excites for the whole of its 6 minutes and 11 seconds.

Curious Postscript

According to Wikipedia somewhere on the album the drummer, Thomas Wydler, plays a fish.

2 thoughts on “Red Right Hand

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.