Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Ghosteen (Ghosteen Ltd.) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds


Ghosteen Ltd.

Oct 10, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The final part in Nick Cave‘s trilogy is here. With foundations built on two modern classics2013’s Push the Sky Away and 2016’s The Skeleton KeyGhosteen 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 statetears pouring down your face towards a mouth agape in awe.

Having been an exceptional artist for the past four decades, Cave now at age 62, steps up into the pantheon of the impossibly great, the otherworldly geniusDavid Bowie, Miles Davis, Patti Smith, and all thatartists who elude categorization or even full comprehension, while creating music best described as transcendent. He has hit his prime in his sixth decade.

This is a remarkably sophisticated, textured record. With arrangements certainly more modern classical than rock ‘n’ roll, Cave and The Bad Seeds utilize retro-future synths, unexpected bursts of choral singing, strings, and raw bass over smatterings of softly picked out piano. When Cave employs a rarely heard, near-unrecognizable falsetto, it’s transportive and unusual in unsettling and strangely pleasing ways.

On “Waiting For You” an industrial grind gives way to a David Lynchian, Black-Lodge-haunted verse, “Your body is an anchor/Never asked to be free/Just want to stay in the business of making you happy,” and a yearning chorus from Cave that matches his moments of flight on “Into My Arms” or “The Ship Song.” “Sometimes a little bit of faith can go a long, long way,” he later notes sadly, stoically. It’s a song of sublimation and of complete devotion and as that alien falsetto wavers, Neil Young-like, at the devastating close, you may need a little cup of tea.

“Night Raid” offers more widescreen, storm-swept near-future sounds built around a distended yet spine-tingling version of a familiar-feeling riff. A choir joins: “We leaned out of the window as the rain fell on the street/On the street” and Cave is in Leonard Cohen territory, tearing us down with a vividly evocative tale of lost romance. “A fountain throbs in the lobby of the Grand Hotel/The spurting font of creativity, yeah I know/Your head in a pool of your own streaming hair/And Jesus lying in his mother’s arms.” It moves in all kinds of unexpected ways, and resonates profoundly.

Of course, just because something is ethereal and moving doesn’t mean it’s perfect and the enveloping world of the album is created in such a way that instantly recognizable hooks and melodies are often subsumed in layers of sound or at times abandoned. Again, that’s not to say the album isn’t melodicit has a sense of melody all of its own, something apart and other, Cave and his band carefully creating an alternate musical universe, the songs existing in their own time, moving, often more slowly, more funereally than one could have thought possible, even from Cave.

This glacial movement is most evident on “Bright Horses,” Cave’s lost cry echoing, mournful, bereft as he recounts a fantasy tale but is tempered by a sudden bout of cold reality: “Horses are just horses and their manes aren’t full of fire/The fields are just fields and there ain’t no lord.” Its musical sophistication is matched by the naive simplicity of its closing line.

On the first disc of Ghosteen, which Cave has described as “children,” we have “Sun Forest,” an affecting ambient sprawl, suggesting some kind of imagined nature or natural order, perhaps as depicted by the album’s idyllic sleeve image. Cave’s mournful piano, pitch-black and reliable and damning death as ever, “As a spiral of children climbs up to the sun/Waving goodbye to you and goodbye to me.” Cave goes on“and the past, with its savage undertow, lets go”and the song suddenly soars, then as it descends and trails away Cave offers a promise, a dedication: “I am here beside you/Look for me in the sun.”

It’s lyrical counterpoint on the second disc, songs noted as “the parents” by Cave, must be the vast, 12 minute + title track. The influences are clear herePhilip Glass, William Basinski, maybe even Max Richter or Nils Frahm feel present in the sprawling orchestral ether, soon crashed by Cave’s tenuously tuned Scott Walker swoon; the transition into a luscious, stately baroque choral anthem makes perfect sense here; the sing-along swoop of the chorus is a moment of true, explosive release. “Here we go,” whispers Cave as the synths take over, solemn and solitary, and we lean in close with the terrifying, indelible: “The three bears watch the TV/They age a lifetime, oh lord/Mama bear holds the remote, papa bear he just floats/And baby bear, he has gone to the moon in a boat, on a boat.”

Those emotive solar and lunar motifs are picked up throughout and rise once more on

“Hollywood.” The 15 minute+ closer rumbles, synths ebbing and flowing until a savage bass-line cuts through, Cave purging “I’m just waiting now for my time to come/And I’m just waiting now for my place in the sun/And I’m just waiting now, for peace to come.” Suddenly bursts of angelic choir split the brooding clouds, Thomas Wydler’s drums distant, regimented, a heartbeat.
“Sea creatures rise out of the sea/And I’m standing on the shore/Everyone begins to run/The kid drops his bucket and spade and climbs into the sun.”

In the latter half of this epic, Cave’s voice again soars to new registers, sounding almost entirely unlike himself, the falsetto, perhaps, a mask for the hardest parts of the stories to impart. “She said everybody is always losing somebody/Then walked into the forest and buried her child.”

There’s more, of course. The woozy, gallon-drunk, soul-brimming hymnal of “Galleon Ship” in which Cave finds come commonality“We are not alone it seems/So many riders in the sky.” The off-world sci-fi dreaminess of “Ghosteen Speaks” is a gospel funereal replete with the unbearably moving lines“I think my friends have gathered here for me/I think they’ve gathered here for me/To be beside me/Look for me, look for me/I am beside you, you are beside me.” And of course there’s “Fireflies,” the poem recently debuted at his solo live shows, which contains the unforgettable coda “I am here, and you are where you are.”

Ghosteen is an almost supernaturally wonderful record. It is, perhaps, the ultimate Nick Cave albumyet somehow unlike anything he has done before. Here, then, is a passionate, eloquent scream unlike any other, yet much like all of our screamscrying out for understanding, compassion, connection, and love. This record speaks to the value of those things, the most precious things there are in life, and it does so thoughtfully and with clarity and heart. It is a record that, given time, may not only prove to be Cave’s greatest work but also an unparalleled musical meditation on grief and acceptance, making Ghosteen that rare thingan album for the ages. (

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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