Ghosteen by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
It’s a fact that has been little remarked upon across his forty-year career, but Nick Cave is a master of reinvention. The Bad Seeds – now on their seventeenth studio album – have charted a rock‘n’roll landscape every bit as varied and unexpected as those of other, more celebrated shapeshifters, like Bowie and Dylan. The difference? The Bad Seeds have never released a bad record.
Ghosteen follows 2016’s gauntly hopeful Skeleton Tree, the album written largely before, but recorded and released in the wake of, the tragic death of Cave’s teenage son. Death, that great, primal theme, flows through Ghosteen, permitting Cave to enact and consider grief from various standpoints in some of the most direct lyrics of his career. The stunning ‘Bright Horses’ at first devastatingly strips the world of exactly the kind of Romantic amplification Cave has always excelled at, only to perform an abrupt about-face to stirringly extol the consolations offered by belief. ‘We’re all so sick and tired of seeing things as they are,’ he sighs. ‘The little white shape dancing at the end of the hall is just a wish that time can’t dissolve at all.’
On Ghosteen, the band’s ingeniously resourceful rhythm section has mostly been benched, guitars along with it. Instead, Cave’s rich, tired baritone is cushioned in airy arrangements awash with heavenly choral hooks, strings, piano and wafting curtains of synth haze. In its intricate textures and curative tones, it sounds like The Bad Seeds’ answer to the soundscapey outer limits of Krautrock, Japanese Environmental Music and Alice Coltrane’s synth-driven ashram tapes. The album’s other presiding spirits might be Scott Walker, Bill Fay and the poet Sharon Olds.
‘It’s a long way to find peace of mind,’ Cave keens. Forty years and countless astonishing songs since he joked of contemplating suicide as singer of Rowland S. Howard’s ‘Shivers’ with the Boys Next Door, you realise peace of mind is what he’s been looking for this whole time.