‘Ghosteen’, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ New Album , A First Impression
As I was watching and listening to the global premiere of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ new album ‘Ghosteen’ on Youtube, these purple, green, blue, yellow, orange foggy skies inhabited by fireflies (only ‘Leviathan’ is under the sea) made me think about an ascension to heaven with Nick Cave’s dark baritone resonating like the voice of God,… the heavy melancholy escaping from each song is terribly human nevertheless.
At the first listening, it’s difficult to be convinced it’s another Bad Seeds’ record because Warren Ellis’ gloomy loops and Nick Cave’s vocals dominate the landscape of every song, making the entire album sounds like a unique very long song with very few variations in the mood. There’s certainly no rocking track, no kickass song, no bold or loud tune… but we were already used to that with the band’s last work, and the very emotional new songs deeply echo Nick Cave’s last album ‘Skeleton Tree’. ‘Ghosteen’ is a double album with the songs on the first album called the children and the songs on the second album called the parents (only 2 songs, linked by a spoken word piece) but there’s no much change in mood or textures, everything floats in a purgatory-like ether populated by mourning synths, deep gut-wrenching organs and Nick’s voice which, several times, surprises us with falsettos.
There is an undeniable cinematic quality to the songs, as if the entire album was the most poignant and heartbreaking soundtrack for some new Hollywood production, naturally ending with a song called ‘Hollywood’.
But looking at these vaporous clouds and listening to the lyrics, you soon understand that the album may be his personal way to communicate with Arthur, his dead son, an attempt to reach his ghost spirit with a renewed faith ‘My baby is coming back on the 5:30 train’ he sings in ‘Bright Horses’, as he circles around the same idea during the song… Nick Cave may have found God after all.
There are plenty of subtle variations around this same mood, oscillating between profound melancholia, grief, and strong, almost naive faith in the beyond – but I may be projecting too much of my personal convictions here. Very atmospheric pieces like ‘Night Raid’, an almost-spoken words track with beautiful harmonies, continue what looks like a collection of dreamy evocations of life and what’s Nick Cave is currently going through. It’s even truer when ‘Sun Forrest’ arrives, a very ambient meditative piece only disrupted by sparse keys and a surreal, eerie, ghostly chorus… if Nick Cave has not found God, he has definitively found some kind of serene spirituality….
The lyrics are haunted by burning trees, horses with manes full of fire, big skies, ride to the sun, Galleon ships, trees and enchanted forests, and there are Nick Cave’s beautifully convoluted stories like the opener ‘Spinning Song’, evocating of the King of rock ‘n’ roll, his queen’s hair, a garden tree, a stairway, a bird, a nest and a feather, a mysterious poetic tale ending like a church prayer with a gospelic line ‘Peace will come in time’, a theme revisited throughout the album.
‘Ghosteen Speaks’ and ‘Ghosteen’ echo to each other, like repeated visits of a ghost during recurrent dreams, and attempts to connect with other dimensions, the other side, while loss is still the most life-altering event: ‘There’s nothing wrong with loving something you can’t hold in your hand’. In contrast, ‘Fireflies’ bombards us with the absurd, ‘There’s no order here, and nothing can be planned/we are fireflies trapped in a little boy’s hand/ And everything is as distant as the stars/I am here, and you are where you are’, while blending poetic imagery with photons, atoms and distant stars.
As usual, the album is populated by plenty of legends and tales, from bible myths (‘Leviathan’) to a children story involving a family of bears (‘Ghosteen’ ) while Jesus is namechecked plenty of times, and ‘Hollywood’ ends with the Buddhist parable of Kisa and the mustard seed… like a reminder that this album is not so much a personal affair after all, since death and loss are the universal unifiers.
‘Hollywood’, as the closing track, fills all its functions, it is an epic soundtrack by itself, working like the very heavy bookend of ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ announcing the end (Nick’s end?) ‘And I’m just waiting now, for my place in the sun/And I’m just waiting now, for peace to come’.
These are some thoughts after listening to the album just a couple of times, and I may have just barely scratched the surface of these heavenly clouds. it’s a very heavy one to digest with churchy/gospelic vibes and emotions almost too raw to be bearable. It’s a difficult album that carries its load of pathos, it will ask for your full attention and entire emotional potential, as it may have some of the same dramatic aurae than David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ or something from Leonard Cohen. If most of ‘Skeleton Tree’ was written before Arthur’s death, ‘Ghosteen’ comes four years after the tragedy, and if you think the grief has been stretching for too long, nobody should blame a man still mourning, ‘It’s a long way to find peace of mind’ he repeats in ‘Hollywood’, while there is a bright light burning right at the center of the album.