Nick Cave has had many outlets over the years. The Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds, the middle-aged primal scream of Grinderman. 'Carnage' is billed under Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, a moniker usually attached to the duo's work on film scores which has included Hell or High Water, Lawless and Wind River. Nick's approach to writing took something of a turn following 2013's 'Push The Sky Away' from storytelling to abstraction, with song structures unbouyed and freeflowing atop Warren's hypnotic synth-loops.
The creative relationship between Nick Cave and Warren Ellis extends back almost 30 years, and bisects joy, success, and unimaginable loss. One of the most striking aspects of new album 'CARNAGE' then is its singular place in their deep, lengthy catalogue. It's not - as many fans hoped - a return to Grinderman. Equally, with its electronic spasms, taut strings, and choral leanings, the record doesn't feel like a Bad Seeds record, at least not in any standard sense.
The storm, the calm, and the quiet words that count.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, huh? It's about damn time. As Cave himself indicated in his Red Hand Files blog, the spirit of his long-serving, barn-burning Bad Seeds died with pianist Conway Savage in 2018 (requiescat.); his partnership with Ellis has been his output's driving force ever since Skeleton Tree, and it's coincided with a broader change in his public image. This, in turn, has opened the doors to a new kind of recognition, no longer as an erudite dark horse, but now as a sensitive elder statesman.
Nick Cave is sounding restless again. The legendary Australian musician had been sounding uncharacteristically pensive and reflective since kicking off a late-career renaissance with 2013's ominously baroque Push the Sky Away, leading to some of the best albums of his career. But, even at his most placid, it sounded like Cave still had the power to leap out of listeners' headphones and bellow in their faces -- he was just choosing not to, as on 2016's sparse, ambient Skeleton Tree and 2019's mournful, ornate Ghosteen.
Now, it appears he's been forced to.
Once tempestuous and brutally apocalyptic, the sound world explored by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds has been drifting further into more textural and abstract explorations. In the absence of Blixa Bargeld and Mick Harvey, multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis has established his core presence in the group, responsible for both its moments of overwhelming beauty and its still occasionally more dissonant and frightening architecture. Cave and Ellis have also worked productively as a duo on film soundtrack work for a number of years, but Carnage is their first album as a duo outside that world.
Nick Cave sings, "This song is like a rain cloud that keeps circling overhead," and then pauses before delivering the next line: "Here it comes around again. " This is "Carnage," from the album of the same name, the first release credited to the duo of Cave and his longtime Bad Seeds bandmate Warren Ellis, aside from their prolific output of film scores. Just before observing the impending storm in his own music, Cave has been sitting on a balcony, perhaps outside a hotel room where a woman sprawls lazily across the bed.
"My response to a crisis has always been to create," Nick Cave wrote in The Red Hand files at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. "This impulse has saved me many times - when things got bad I'd plan a tour, or write a book, or make a record - I'd hide myself in work, and try to stay one step ahead of whatever it was that was pursuing me." This time, however, things felt different. "It is a time to take a backseat and use this opportunity to reflect on exactly what our function is - what we, as artists, are for," Cave continued.
In late July, as the pandemic gathered pace, Nick Cave performed a livestream concert from London's Alexandra Palace that would later become the film Idiot Prayer. Alone at the piano, he moved from Spinning Song to Galleon Ship, via Brompton Oratory, The Mercy Seat, and Higgs Boson Blues. The concert hall stood deserted, the lighting fell starkly, and Cave played with a steady, devastating intimacy.