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Digital Subscriptions > Long Live Vinyl > Dec 2019 > Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Nick Cave emerges with one of his most powerful and extraordinary albums, a meditation on grief, morality and wonder. Jonathan Wright celebrates the work of a master songwriter

GHOSTEEN GHOSTEEN LTD

TRACKLIST

PART ONE

1 Spinning Song

2 Bright Horses

3 Waiting For You

4 Night Raid

5 Sun Forest

6 Galleon Ship

7 Ghosteen Speaks

8 Leviathan

PART TWO

1 Ghosteen

2 Fireflies

3 Hollywood

On Fireflies, sequenced as the penultimate track on Ghosteen, Nick Cave goes, not for the first time on an extraordinary LP, to the heart of the matter. “We are here and you are where you are,” Cave speak-sings. It’s a line that’s impossible to hear without immediately thinking back to the tragedy of the accidental death of Cave’s teenage son, Arthur.

Faced with such a devastating event, many would have hidden. Cave has done the opposite. Having spent long years building a persona that was a mix of brimstone preacher, sinister carny and lovelorn troubadour, the latter-day Cave is a man who, via his Red Hand Files website, says: “You can ask me anything,” and whose most recent shows have brought the same premise into a concert setting. As to why he’s done this, the need for connection appears paramount. “We all needed to draw ourselves back to a state of wonder,” Cave has said of his family’s grief. “My way was to write myself there.”

In this context, one way to understand Ghosteen’s structure – a double LP, the songs on the first album are “children”, on the second “parents”, Cave has stated – is to see the first disc as Cave reaching for this state of wonder. The images on these songs are often as fantastical as the album’s bucolic-kitsch cover. In Sun Forest, children spiral upwards, the steeds of Bright Horses burn with intensity, while Galleon Ships “circle around the morning sun”.

The songs’ arrangements, with their use of swirling electronics, recall Skeleton Tree. And yet Cave and his trusted lieutenant Warren Ellis aren’t repeating themselves. If Skeleton Tree was as stark as the title suggests, there’s now an analogue warmth to the synths and loops that recalls Kraftwerk and Berlin-era Bowie, even prog rock.

All of which might be too much if it weren’t for Cave sometimes breaking the fourth wall, undercutting himself. Those Bright Horses, he declares at one point, “are just horses”. Wonder, perhaps, is something you can touch fleetingly, but not without the workaday world eventually intruding.

As for the three songs that conclude the album, the parents, these seem more concerned with the darkest moments of grief. On Ghosteen, “Baby Bear he has gone.” For Hollywood, Cave mixes up a road-movie narrative with the story of Kisa Gotami, a woman who went to see the Buddha after losing her child.

It’s the last song, but it’s tempting to see it as the key to what’s gone before, the linking point between the grief and the wonder. Further, while recurring characters from Cave’s work, Elvis and Jesus, make appearances on Ghosteen. It’s a song that represents how there’s a sense throughout of Cave looking for new stories, new approaches. Why? Maybe because his songwriting tropes and those familiar characters are no longer adequate to grappling with what’s happened.

With all your heart, you wish circumstances were such that it didn’t have to be this way, and yet Cave’s insistence on reaching for the wonder is, in itself, wondrous.

MATT THORNE
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About Long Live Vinyl

The Clash, Gang Of Four, Buzzcocks, The Pop Group… 1979 was a hell of a year for music! Our epic cover feature tells the true story behind one of the most influential albums of all time, London Calling, as a new deluxe 40th anniversary reissue is unveiled. We also speak to a host of bands who wouldn't have existed without The Clash's revolutionary masterpiece. In other 1979 news, we've rounded up the key members of the post-punk movement that shaped one of British music's greatest years to tell us why it was so special and dig out some of the essential records from the final year of the 70s. Elsewhere, we count down the 40 greatest double albums of all time, London Calling included – from Tago Mago to Daydream Nation via Songs In The Key Of Life and The White Album. How many have you got? Talking of great classic albums, we take an in-depth look at Gene Clark's lost masterpiece No Other, finally given a reissue by 4AD this month. And our packed interviews section brings you chats with ELO legend Jeff Lynne, rising Irish folk heroes Lankum, indie veterans Stereophonics and Tindersticks as they tell us about their new albums. If all that's not enough you'll find a host of new release and reissue reviews from the likes of Nick Cave, The Rolling Stones, Prince, R.E.M., The Who, FKA Twigs and Michael Kiwanuka, as well as the latest turntable reviews. Long Live Vinyl is THE magazine for vinyl lovers.