Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Ghosteen
Ghosteen Records

Nick Cave has been making music in the public eye for over 40 years now.  He burst onto the scene in the late 1970s fronting the legendary Australian post-punk band, The Birthday Party.  They split in 1983, and he formed the Bad Seeds, one of the most enduring bands of our era.  Cave is not a singular artist, he has always relied on collaborations. The Birthday Party was a band, and the songs were written by a collection of the members, including guitarist Mick Harvey, who followed him to the Bad Seeds.  In the long and varied career of the Bad Seeds, Harvey, Blixa Bergeld, and now, Warren Ellis, have been Cave’s main men.  His relationship with Ellis, the Bad Seeds’ resident freak, has been particularly fruitful over the past two decades, through the varied output of the Bad Seeds, but also with the short-lived power trio with drummer Jim Sclavunos (who also does drums and percussion with the Bad Seeds), Grinderman.

Ghosteen marks the conclusion of a trilogy that began with 2013’s Push the Sky Away, and continued through 2016’s Skeleton Tree.  But partway through this trilogy, in summer 2015, Cave’s 15-year old son with his long-time wife, Susie, fell to his death from a cliffside in England.  I don’t know how a parent gets through this, to be honest.  A few years back, a good friend of mine lost her eldest to cancer.  My heart broke for her, and her grief was real and visceral, and even all these years later, her gried still bubbles to the surface now and then.  But somehow, like Cave, she has pushed on.

Skeleton Tree was very much an album in the wake of Arthur Cave’s death, it was a difficult and complicated listen. It was also glorious and beautiful.  My niece says she didn’t like Push the Sky Away.  I say, kids, what the fuck do they know?  I think it was also a beautiful, complicated album.  This trilogy comes on the heels of the rocked out version of the Bad Seeds that came out of Grinderman.

And so, we come to the brand new Ghosteen.  This is a heavy album, and ranks amongst the best in Cave’s long and varied career.  Lyrically, he continues his healing after Arthur’s death, but also widens the lens to look at our collective grief.   Much of The Skeleton Tree was written before, but recorded after Arthur’s death.  And yet, the grief in the man drips off the album.  But here, we get a bigger, collective sense of his grief.  I feel somewhat dirty discussing the man’s grief here, grief is multivaried, multidirectional, and complicated.  But, then again, he is an artist and his grief comes through his art.

Ghosteen is a double album, divided into two parts.  The first song cycle are the ‘children’ and the second cycle is the ‘parents.’  Lyrically, this album is almost uncomfortable Cave’s grief is so blunt in his lyrics.  The ghosteen is the migratory spirit across the album, and, as in all of Cave’s best works, it becomes the central organizing character of this album.

Album opener appears to be telling the nativity scene of Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock’n’Roll, but that’s just the cover for Cave’s grief, which is manifest in the ending lyrics:

And I love you, and I love you, and I love you, and I love you
And I love you, and I love you, and I love you
Peace will come, a peace will come, a peace will come in time
A time will come, a time will come, a time will come for us
Peace will come, a peace will come, a peace will come in time
A time will come, a time will come, a time will come for us.

Ooof.  In the next track, ‘Bright Horses,’ Cave is tired of seeing the world for what it is.  And on  ‘Waiting For You,’ Cave sings:

Well, sometimes a little bit of faith can go a long, long way
Your soul is my anchor, I never asked to be freed
Well, sleep now, sleep now, take as long as you need

The album continues in this vein. Musically, the brilliant partnership between Cave and Ellis envelops Cave’s shattered lyrics, given them a safe place, holding them in the light, and gently guiding them home.  Sonically, this is one of the most beautiful albums I’ve heard in years.