2019 album also available on CD.
One of rock’s celebrated post punk era songwriters Nick Cave, along with his merry bunch of music men The Bad Seeds are releasing ‘Ghosted’. The Australian musician known for his literary style and baritone voice says the album - their 18th - is full of the most beautiful songs he has ever recorded. Like C.S. Lewis’ 'A Grief Observed', this devastating album is the work of an artist attempting to make sense of loss. "Peace will come," Nick Cave assures us, although it never really does.
'Ghosteen’s' album cover, a kitschy, fairytale landscape illustration that looks not unlike one of those leaflets Jehovah’s Witnesses hand out at shopping centres? His description of the album is also pretty gnomic: the eight songs on the first album are “the children”; the two lengthy tracks and spoken word piece on album two are “their parents”.
The result is perhaps the most straightforwardly beautiful set of songs that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have ever recorded, which fits with the album’s lyrical themes. When you listen to Ghosteen, the “children”/ “parents” description makes sense. Cave has talked about how his son’s death altered his work, how he found a way to “write beyond the trauma … to propel [myself] beyond the personal into a state of wonder”. And, despite the appearance of regular Cave themes – the first thing you hear is him invoking Vegas-era Elvis – Ghosteen appears to depict that process. For all the cinematic attractiveness of their arrangements and the title track’s opening meditation on the beauty of the world, the long songs on album two seem darker in tone, filled with sleepless nights, departures and desperate fantasies of escape: “I’m waiting for peace to come,” repeats one ambiguous line in Hollywood. The songs on album one, meanwhile, sound like the result of working through those emotions: lighter, calmer, concerned with empathy and faith. You feel the shift most clearly on Sun Forest, in which Cave does his patented apocalyptic thing – screaming horses, burning trees, hanging bodies, Jesus mad with grief – before the lyric suddenly flips – “the past pulls away and the future begins and I say goodbye to all that, / and the future rolls in like a wave… and the past, with its savage undertow, lets go” – and ends up exhorting the listener: “Come on, everyone!”
Most listeners seemed to take Nick’s last album ‘Skeleton Tree’ as an extended treatise on grief, ignoring Cave’s insistence that the songs predated the loss they were presumed to be about. In fairness, you could see why, given how bleak and disturbing it sounded. But if ‘Ghosteen’ is the album people supposed its predecessor to be, it sounds like nothing like you might expect of an album informed by tragedy. On one level, it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s as good as it is: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have been in a career-high purple patch since the last double album they released, 2004’s ‘Abettor Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus’. Nevertheless, listening to Ghosteen, it’s very hard indeed not to be taken aback.
‘Ghosteen’ is one of the most devastatingly accurate accounts of grief that you’ll ever listen to. Yet it’s also, astoundingly, one of the most comforting. Few mediations on grief manage to navigate despair and catharsis as well as this. Cave encourages us to candidly speak about grief, be it through wild imaginings, eerie hauntings or gentle longings. Only then, as he points out, can we find some sort of “peace of mind.” Whatever form grief takes, Cave encourages us to find beauty in pain, even when it might be difficult to do so. These are probably the most painful songs Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds have ever recorded, but they’re also the most beautiful: it is a work of extraordinary, unsettling scope.