Release Date: Oct 4, 2019
Record label: Ghosteen
A ghost on the move. Skeleton Tree forever changed the way we will look at Nick Cave. Following the tragic death of his teen son Arthur, the record - which was mostly written prior to his passing - saw its lyrics amended by a grieving Cave to befit themes of death and loss. Of course, the pain in his voice throughout the actual recording process was so palpable that it became an inescapable facet of Skeleton Tree's atmosphere.
This decade's premier album of loss, it not only found Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds dabbling with some of the most adventurous songcraft of their career - perhaps forced into uncharted waters by the darkness of the (ultimate, if not initial) subject matter - but seemed to energise Cave for the ensuing live shows, by all accounts some of his most scintillating performances ever. Now, he returns with Ghosteen, and it's difficult to conceive of a more perfect companion piece. The desolation of Skeleton Tree remains, but it's less absolute, its pitch-black tone less impregnable; moments of hope cut through the murk like shafts of light, carried on a major interval here, a gracious string motif there.
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 The last few years have seen Nick Cave engage with fans more directly and openly than ever before. "You can ask me anything," was the simple and direct message he posted to fans on the launch of his Red Hand Files website.
The final part in Nick Cave's trilogy is here. With foundations built on two modern classics— 2013's Push the Sky Away and 2016's The Skeleton Key— Ghosteen is a double album that feels like a transformation, a regeneration, and one of the more incredible expressions of grief and strength we've yet seen from a modern artist. You may spend much of Ghosteen in a strange, perhaps unique state— tears pouring down your face towards a mouth agape in awe.
On the sublime Ghosteen--the first album Nick Cave has written and recorded entirely since the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015--he sorts through his grief and all the requisite stages, occasionally as though in real time. His mood drifts between domesticity and depravity. He empathizes ….
The Lowdown: Life, it seems, is marked by separations. Hard lines are drawn daily between night and day, dream and reality, and most severely, life and death. This last dichotomy has always haunted post-punk legend Nick Cave, as he writes in his Red Hand Files: "For most of my life, I felt a strange gravitational pull toward an undisclosed traumatic event." This "dreadful yearning," as he describes it, manifested itself in Skeleton Tree, a barren and bare-boned album gravely interrupted by the loss of Cave's son, Arthur, who died during the album's production.
W hat is the worst that can happen? And what happens after the worst does? Nick Cave, leader of the Bad Seeds, his band of over 30 years, has had to endure the triple bind of unimaginable tragedy, processing grief as a public figure and - more recently - the task of metabolising that suffering into some kind of continued artistic existence. Had Cave gone to ground indefinitely after the death of his teenage son Arthur in 2015, everyone would have understood. Instead, he released an album in 2016, Skeleton Tree - a work digested by fans in the shadow of the event, but largely written before it - and an accompanying documentary, the visually lyrical One More Time With Feeling, which dealt with the aftermath of Arthur's passing.
N ick Cave and the Bad Seeds' 18th album was casually announced, a week before its release, in answer to an online query from a fan on Cave's Red Hand Files website. That says a lot about how Nick Cave has transformed himself over the last 12 months. Previously an entertaining but guarded interviewee, he has, more or less, thrown himself open to the public.
From the moment SoundCloud premiered 'We No Who U Are' (the ghostly lead single from 'Push The Sky Away') at 2012's gloaming, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have been transforming, vibrating, evolving into a whole new outfit that bears as little resemblance to its prior incarnations as it does to Cave's old punk band The Birthday Party. This change has been audible in their music, when the greasy aggression that underpinned the Seeds' sound up until 2008's 'Dig, Lazarus, Dig!' departed alongside founding member Mick Harvey, replaced by the more impressionistic, sparse experimentalism of new (red) right hand man Warren Ellis. More importantly, however, it is visible in the larger, all-encompassing metamorphosis of Nick Cave as an artist, public figure and human being.