Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen – Album Review
by Killian Laher
It’s difficult to get away from the fact that a traumatic life event hangs heavy over this latest album from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The Nick Cave we are familiar with on recent albums is largely absent here, replaced instead by a highly uncertain voice. The music is also a departure, largely devoid of guitar and drums. More a circling… ‘ghostliness’, for want of a better word.
When listened to in its entirety at first it appears that the solemnity and sheer enormity might overwhelm. The opening track, Spinning Song sees Cave sing a tale about ‘the king’ over brooding keyboards. Like the rest of the album, the track doesn’t raise itself above a crawl, culminating in Cave singing at the top of his register that “peace will come in time” over music that acts almost as some kind of healing. The music here is largely quite soothing, Warren Ellis’ strings elevate songs like Bright Horses, Sun Forest and Galleon Ship, causing them to soar.
There are few catchy choruses here, in fact few of the songs repeat themselves at all. Clanking percussion briefly appears and then vanishes at the beginning of gorgeous piano ballad Waiting for You, one of the finest tracks here, and one which harks back to 1997’s The Boatman’s Call. Night Raid is the song that comes closest to more familiar territory for Cave and co, with a Jesus-referencing lyric over piano and otherworldly sounding keyboards.
The first part of the set ends with Leviathan, a slow piano and strings brooding song and a lyric that would sound ridiculous in anyone else’s hands, Cave sings “I love my baby and my baby loves me” over and over.
The second part opens with the slow drift of the title track, which sees the band channel Bowie’s work with Eno on side 2 of Low for four minutes or so before Cave sings a redemptive lyric about how “this world is beautiful”. A choir of voices and strings flood the song with sound, stopping just short of overwhelming it. After a brief spoken word interlude (Fireflies) the final track Hollywood builds slowly across 14 minutes, encompassing a foreboding melody, space age sounding keyboards, growling bass, heavenly strings and chorus, and a vulnerable vocal from Nick Cave, singing a tale of how “I’m just waiting for my time to come” amongst other things, finishing off in almost falsetto: “it’s a long way to find peace of mind”.
Make no mistake, this is by no means an album of wallowing in misfortune. It’s probably the only music Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds could make at this time. Without doubt it is a reaction to a trauma but it’s reflective and some of what it reflects on contains light. In terms of Cave’s catalogue it could only follow Skeleton Tree. It will unsettle some but great music or art is not always comfortable. It won’t be one for every day listening but each listen will pull you in that bit further.
Track List –
1. Spinning Song
2. Bright Horses
3. Waiting For You
4. Night Raid
5. Sun Forest
6. Galleon Ship
7. Ghosteen Speaks