Andrzej Caba takes a listen to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds new album, Ghosteen.
After 40 years of making music, Nick Cave still drifts into new musical territories and creates one of his most powerful and personal albums - Ghosteen. In order to fully understand the grief and emotion here, it is important to know that this is the first album fully written after death of Cave’s son in 2015. Subject touched upon on his previous recording - Skeleton Tree.This time showing his feeling from a more personal perspective.
The change however occurred not only in Cave’s mind but also in his sound. Ghosteen consists of ambient-like, soft and spacious instrumentals. Beautifully crafted, mostly piano and electronic based, background serves as a base for the narrative of the album. This allows the listener to float along with the artist during his personal journey through despair but also with a weird sense of hope.
The title track is the only one that features full instrumentation with bass, drums and bells as the listeners are hit with a huge crescendo. As this happens, we are over 40 minutes into the album. For many it may be hard get through so many minimal sounds before something happens.
Throughout the album Cave touches on different aspects of mortality and faith. Something that has been present in his works since the very beginning. This time, however, it is shown from a different perspective. On the track ’Spinning Song’ he sings how his legacy will live on longer than him and he will be remembered through his music. At the end of the song Cave sings ”Peace will come” repeatedly, setting up framing device for the album. In the last song of the album - ’Hollywood’ - Cave says he is “waiting for the peace to come”. This is a song about moving on after someone has died. He knows he has to do this even though he is not ready yet. At the same time, it seems that Nick Cave is dealing with the fact the he will die someday. On the last verse of the song, the lyrics mention Kiss Gotami. This is a direct reference to buddhism. The lesson of the Lisa Gotami story is that we have to accept our mortality and the fact that death is a universal concept concerning everyone. Approaching Kisa Gotami’s story the instrumental gets more and more unsettling and then shifts into a hating sound while Cave describes the inevitability of death.
Songs such as ’Bright Horses’ and ’Waiting For You’ convey hope of reuniting with his son. Cave describes life as normal, but then he realizes that it is not like this anymore and his son is not coming. This is when he shifts into matters of faith and sings about the return of Jesus. Just like Christ is supposed to return, Cave wants his son to come back.
There are a lot of references to Christian beliefs through out the album, often mixed with personal narratives of memories. Like on the song ’Sun Forest’, which says that despite leaving in a tough environment, we can dream and try to achieve the perfect world. Yet at the same time, Cave questions the promises of Jesus Christ, possibly explaining his lack of faith.
Ending the first part of the album, Cave reminds us that we are not alone in our grief and suffering. There are others affected by it and there are things that remind us of the people we lost. Musically, these songs are built over minimalist piano and synthesizer arrangements which allow the listener to submerge in the story and focus on the narrative. There is less vocal background instrumentation that on the rest of the album.
The first part of Ghosteen ends with ’Leviathan’ which closes disc one on a strong note, with Cave singing "I love my baby and my baby loves me” over and over.
After a short moment of silence, the album shifts into part two and the already mentioned ’Ghosteen’ - the richest song on the album musically speaking. Under layers of beautiful sounds there is a lot of pain. In this song Cave directly describes his feeling towards his son’s passing trough deep, yet obvious metaphors.
Before the final song of the album there is a spoken word piece which is best described by Cave’s earlier version of the lyrics - without metaphors and any other stylistic measures. The raw version is very direct and self-explanatory. “I have found a way to write beyond the trauma, authentically, that deals with all manner of issues but does not turn its back on the issue of the death of my child. I found with some practise the imagination could propel itself beyond the personal into a state of wonder […] Here is a lyric, called Fireflies, which I wrote a few months ago that circles around this idea.”
Ghosteen is a very heavy and powerful album. It may feel long and boring for many but this is the sound that works for the narration. It is a devastating experience. Straight forward lyrics about personal grief woven onto beautiful, ambient melodies make the listener go on a journey with Nick Cave through all of his feelings and way to overcome the despair.