Nick Cave Explores Loss in Ghosteen

Nick CaveNick Cave and the Bad Seeds have returned with their 17th album, Ghosteen, on Oct. 4. Just in time for Halloween!

The Australian band, formed in 1983, continues to be one of rock’s more obscure, yet beloved acts. In 2015, Cave lost his 15 year-old son, Arthur, after he fell from a cliff in Brighton, England.  His album Skeleton Tree featured a documentary on him.

The album cover of Ghosteen is a mystical forest, with lush trees, and beaming sunlight; a depiction of the Garden of Eden, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or perhaps, the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Bad Seeds’ music emphasizes Cave’s cold baritone voice. He croons and entrances listeners with a voice like a shudder.  Ghosteen is no different.  This album is a difficult listen;  it’s minimal, emotive, and hurting, but beautiful nonetheless.

The first song, ‘Spinning Song,’ begins with an ambient synthesizer, then a flourishing piano.  Cave’s vocals are slow and methodical, almost speaking.  I think the song is about Elvis because his lyrics include, “It was a spinning song/About the King of Rock and Roll…With his black jelly hair/He crashed onto a stage in Vegas.”  Then, the refrain of the phrases, “I love you,” and “Peace will come,” echo until an abrupt silence.

‘Bright Horses,’ ‘Waiting for You,’ ‘Night Raid,’ and ‘Sun Forest’ act together as a movement in an opera, with recurring elements and refrains.  The themes of faith, bereavement, and joining together with Arthur in Cave’s stirring honesty is heartbreaking.

‘Galleon Ship’ is one of the best tracks on this record.  “For we are not alone it seems/So many riders in the sky/The winds of longing in their sails/Searching for the other side.”  On this voyage into loss, Cave is not the only one experiencing this emotion.  He would switch places if he could, but we know this ship may not reach that destination.

Another high point is the title track, ‘Ghosteen.’  It’s a 12 minute epic where he describes him and his wife, Susie, as Mama Bear and Papa Bear in Goldilocks. The grief has affected both of them in two different ways.  Susie tries to hide the grief she feels by mindlessly channel-surfing and Nick by lingering on it.

The finale of this album is the 14 minute salute, “Hollywood.”  In this track, Cave croons about where he is when he finds out the news about his son.  He’s in the United States, almost to Malibu, and he sees himself as an outlaw “on the run.”  He left his son “like a ghost yearning.”  This song is interesting because throughout the album, Cave talks about his faith in a Christian tradition, but this song refers to the Buddhist story of Kisa.

In the popular story, Buddha teaches to Kisa, who is grief-stricken after losing her son, that no house can escape mortality.

Cave finishes the album with a message worthy of sharing: “Waiting for my time to come/And I’m waiting for my peace to come.”

Ghosteen is a tragic album, but worth every second.

IMAGE TAKEN from The Washington Post