Album #3: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

  • Released: 2019
  • Origin: Melbourne, Australia
  • Label: Ghosteen/Bad Seed
  • Best Track: Bright Horses

Nick Cave is an artist I’ve been meaning to get into for some time. The problem it’s hard to know where to start. His work spans well over 40 years, and varies from the riotous irreverence of The Birthday Party to the heart-breakingly sombre Skeleton Tree, the Bad Seeds’ 2016 album that was written and recorded around the tragic death of Cave’s teenage son.

Skeleton Tree is the only NCATBS album I’ve properly listened to, and I was blown away by it. It’s not entirely accurate to say that it’s an album about his son, but – like with albums like Nirvana’s In Utero and Joy Division’s Closer – I found it impossible to detach it from the events that happened around it. It’s a phenomenally moving channelling of grief and was the best album I heard that year, so I’m not sure why I haven’t listened to any more of their albums. It’s like I’m frightened to explore Cave’s oeuvre without mental preparation; to just dip in and out of it without due consideration for what you’re getting yourself into seems almost disrespectful.

Ghosteen followed it three years later, and not before time I’m giving it a listen. It’s the Bad Seeds’ seventeenth full album, and is described by some sources of the final part of a trilogy, with Skeleton Tree and 2013’s Push the Sky Away its prequels. I can understand why as it does have the feel of a continuation of Skeleton Tree, with familiar themes of religious and death always present – this album too is touched by tragedy with it being the first since the death of band member Conway Savage in 2018.

Cave remains elegiac, but while Skeleton Tree understandably sounded like an outpouring, I detect a degree of resolve on Ghosteen. His narratives are otherworldly and regularly personify objects like the moon and stars, notably on the title track. There’s the rallying calls of ‘Sun Forest’, and the desperate hopefulness of the album highlight ‘Bright Horses’.

If I’m going to complete this project, I’ll need to be more concise and albums like this don’t help me as they’re so deep and need a degree of research. Suffice to say I have a lot of exploring to do on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and my self-imposed “one review per artist” rule means I’ll have to do it not only in my spare time, but my spare spare time.

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