Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Ghosteen


5.0
classic

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
October 4th, 2019 | 358 replies


Release Date: 10/04/2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A ghost on the move.

Skeleton Tree forever changed the way we will look at Nick Cave. Following the tragic death of his teen son Arthur, the record – which was mostly written prior to his passing – saw its lyrics amended by a grieving Cave to befit themes of death and loss. Of course, the pain in his voice throughout the actual recording process was so palpable that it became an inescapable facet of Skeleton Tree’s atmosphere. Some of the previously written verses may have been coincidental, incidentally prophetic – but there was nowhere for Nick Cave to hide his gaping emotional wounds when singing lines like “the phone it rings, it rings no more” or “you're still in me, baby, I need you.” That bare and forsaken aura permeated Skeleton Tree, a record that saw a man at his lowest of lows trying to make sense of tragedy in its rawest possible form.

Ghosteen presents an interesting conundrum on the heels of that emotional wreckage. How do you come back from the death of your son and make an album? Despite the four years that have now passed since Arthur was found at the bottom of that cliff, Nick is still understandably grappling with his absence. The album was never going to be able to return to the comparatively upbeat rock of Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, a phase of the Bad Seeds that appears to be firmly rooted in their past due to a combination of Mick Harvey’s departure and Cave’s current life situation. Nobody would have blamed Nick if he was still entombed in depression either, although nothing he could write now would be able to echo the immediacy of Skeleton Tree’s shattering circumstances. This presents something of an unexpected crossroads moment this late in his career, but in typical Nick Cave fashion, he embraces the challenge and more than pulls it off with a seamless fusion of familiarity and progression.

Ghosteen takes on the hollowed-out ambience of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ last two outings – somehow becoming even more minimal in the process – while coloring that emptiness with brighter and more uplifting accents. Most of the songs here offer little beyond Cave’s vocals and lyrics, but whereas the pervading tone of Skeleton Tree was inevitably morose, Ghosteen is painted with more hopeful hues. Synths swell with Cave’s existential musings in gorgeous time, underscored by pianos that lend the double album an air of majesty. There’s no better example of all this than ‘Bright Horses’, a song that floats among the heavens as Cave looks toward the light to bring back everything he’s lost:

I can hear the whistle blowing, I can hear the mighty roar
I can hear the horses prancing in the pastures of the Lord
Oh the train is coming, and I'm standing here to see
And it's bringing my baby right back to me

The apparition-like ahh’s that are prevalent make the song feel even more personal and spiritual, and one can almost envision Cave trembling with hope as he waits to embrace Arthur, a figure he so eloquently refers to here as “the little white shape dancing at the end of the hall.” It’s heartbreaking. ‘Galleon Ships’ is another track whose aesthetics demand attention, as synths rise and fall dramatically atop distant, echoing conversations and sparse, wispy piano lines. Lyrical imagery pertaining to far-off sunrises and floating galleons make it the most mysteriously ethereal track, as well as a barometer of what one can expect when Ghosteen ascends from its minimal foundation.

All isn’t well, however, on Ghosteen – this is still very much a desperate record that mourns loss and questions not just why we lose everything that we love, but how we’re supposed to continue on after. ‘Sun Forest’ admirably sets that tone with screaming horses, burning trees, and hanging bodies – morbid images stemming from the loneliness of the man behind the pen: “no, it isn't any fun to be standing here alone with nowhere to be.” The lyrics become less abstract and more pointed on the album’s second disc, where Ghosteen sees itself shift from the lush amenities of its opening half to a deeply proximal, bare-bones canvas that even contains a spoken-word track. Suddenly we find ourselves in the Cave household on the record’s towering, twelve minute title track: “you're in the back room washing his clothes...the past with its fierce undertow won't ever let us go” / “mama bear holds the remote…papa bear, he just floats / and baby bear, he has gone…to the moon on a boat.” It’s amazing to witness Nick’s emotional and lyrical growth from Skeleton Tree to now, and one can almost hear the various stages of grief unfolding. In 2016, he was clearly still devastated – practically immobilized by his own emotional anguish – and everything was delivered from a cold, linear, and unforgiving perspective. Now, his lyrics – while still drowned in sorrow – are more reflective and symbolic. Although its unclear if he’ll ever actually reach a stage of acceptance, Ghosteen serves as a snapshot of Cave in transition – not unlike the realm-drifting spirits he sings about.

It would be easy to lump Ghosteen in with its two predecessors – after all, it’s the final part of that trilogy – but just as there were marked differences between Skeleton Tree and Push Away the Sky, this record also possesses a unique footprint. Nobody would have called Skeleton Tree a “pretty” album (unless we’re talking about “finding the beauty in sorrow”). For what Ghosteen loses in its immediate proximity to tragic loss, it makes up for with perspective – which takes shape through Cave’s most beautiful compositions ever. It’s a record that’s aesthetically “pretty” in a sense that Skeleton Tree never could have been because it would have clashed with the lyrics and jeopardized the seriousness of the content at stake. Here, Cave is afforded the kind of flexibility that only comes with time, as devastation and isolation have slowly transformed into memories and loneliness. With some distance finally between 2015 and the present, Cave finds himself asking more questions than ever. The shock of Arthur’s death has passed, and now it’s on to “what do I do now, where do I go?” Along with philosophical lyrics come a push for artful flourishes that complement thoughts and ideas of the metaphysical; it’s all a very delicate transition, but one that Cave handles with the utmost degree of humanity and professionalism.

Such emotional deftness and tact is made all the more impressive when you consider just how damaged Cave still is. On the fourteen minute closing movement, ‘Hollywood’, he repeats the line “I'm just waiting now, for my time to come.” It’s not the sound of a man who has come to terms with anything at all; it’s more like he’s simply waiting out a sentence on this Earth. There’s an air of finality not only to ‘Hollywood’, but to the entirety of Ghosteen. Cave has been such a prolific artist over his career, producing seventeen albums under The Bad Seeds moniker alone, and at age sixty two it wouldn’t be out of the question to see him ride into the sunset after this. Of course, the fact that his voice has not diminished (if anything, his range has improved) provides little in the way of support for a theory that is hopefully wrong to begin with. Every successive Nick Cave album is just an additional opportunity to witness him at his absolute greatest, which is where he’s been since Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. Ghosteen may be the biggest boon to his mythical career yet; it’s another masterpiece that will forever be enshrined in his ever-growing legacy. Absolute perfection.

There is no order here and there is no middle ground
Nothing can be predicted and nothing can be planned
A star is just a memory of a star
We are fireflies pulsing dimly in the dark
We are here and you are where you are




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user ratings (178)
4.1
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
October 4th 2019


32423 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

*Makes room on decade list*

Digging: Jimmy Eat World - Surviving

DoofDoof
October 4th 2019


5809 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Was not expecting to have that same reaction but yes Sowing yes! This is not all that far behind 'Skeleton Tree'...if it is at all?

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
October 4th 2019


16605 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Oh HELLO. Going to save this until I've listened a few more times, but I can already guess what inspired you to write so swiftly and extensively ;]

Digging: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen

Pikazilla
October 4th 2019


4956 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Nice sound-off doof haha

DoofDoof
October 4th 2019


5809 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Imagine if Metallica came in half way through the first song....NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO





SMALL TOWN GURRRRRRRRRRL





ICED HONEEEEEEY YEEEEEEEEAAAH

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 4th 2019


32423 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

The TL;DR version of this review is "Skeleton Tree's hotter sister"

Packs all the emotion of that record but is even richer aesthetically despite being more minimal.

This is at least tied with Skeleton Tree and Abbatoir right off the bat, and as long as it grows on me like all Nick Cave records do, then it could easily emerge as my favorite of the bunch.

Also, this has in all likelihood bumped Copeland/LDR off my personal AOTY perch.

Pikazilla
October 4th 2019


4956 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

One thing I'm sure of is that I prefer Skeleton Tree over this. Fell in love with that one as soon as I heard it.

DoofDoof
October 4th 2019


5809 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

After two listens I'm thinking it has top 5 of 2019 potential...it might just be a 5

DoofDoof
October 4th 2019


5809 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

'Also, this has in all likelihood bumped Copeland/LDR off my personal AOTY perch.'



suddenly Norman fucking rockwell seems small potatoes agreed

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 4th 2019


32423 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I fell in love with Abbatoir right away, Skeleton Tree needed time to grow. I think Skeleton Tree got me acclimated to his ambient side, and now this album is reaping the benefits. Still, all 3 of those albums are classics in my eyes and nothing else in his discography that I've heard is on the same plane.

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
October 4th 2019


19068 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

Come on man, the album hasn't been out for a whole day and you waltz in here with that fancy little 5

Digging: Lightning Bolt - Sonic Citadel

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
October 4th 2019


19068 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

But you make some very good points for it so [insert shrug text here]

RadioSuicide
October 4th 2019


1042 Comments


Interesting, loved Skeleton Tree so I guess I owe it to myself to check this. NC can do no wrong.

Pikazilla
October 4th 2019


4956 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

To be fair, doof, I'd rather see this or Destroyer win top of the decade at sput than, say, Carrie and Lowell, which I detest with a burning passion (I dig Illinoise, mind you). I remember potsy commenting on that thread, saying it was a very basic record, when the album released and agreeing with him in mind.



This is the kind of non-metal/non-electronic sputcore we need here.

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 4th 2019


32423 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

A quick turnaround of a take to be sure Fripp, but one I'm pretty confident in. I'm sure I'll develop even more nuanced opinions over time, but probably not within the next week which is when I'd be writing anyway. Also doesn't help that I'm busy for the next like 20 days or so, so (shoulder shrug) indeed.

Gyromania
October 4th 2019


28598 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

ugh, i'm starting to really like this

Gyromania
October 4th 2019


28598 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

gotta say though, after several plays of it over the last few years, skeleton tree kind of sucks. can't get over how much better PtSA is in comparison. this one is definitely better.

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 4th 2019


32423 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Give in Gyro. You know you want to.

From a legacy standpoint I want this to be the last Nick Cave album. Can't imagine a better album or better set of verses (I'm just waiting now, for my time to come) to go out on.

Of course as a fan, I'm already hoping for another double album before the new year lol.

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
October 4th 2019


16899 Comments


so pumped to jam this

luci
October 4th 2019


11864 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

if any album this week would get a hyperbolic insta 5 review from sowing, it's this one



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