Nick Cave: Ghosteen, review

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Nick Cave’s new album is ‘an album about visions of innocence, dreams of freedom .. beautiful’, writes Miguel Pires 

⭐⭐⭐⭐

In July of 2015, Nick Cave was faced with an inconsolable tragedy. His 15-year-old son, Arthur, died – falling off a cliff near their home in Brighton. From the aftermath of this tragedy, he released Skeleton Tree, a powerful, draining and an exceptional album that faces grief head-on. Not much in Nick Cave’s discography can challenge the emotional potency of Skeleton Tree, and I don’t think that anything ever will. Ghosteen, his new double album, is a perfect companion piece for this grief.

Ghosteen is best described as a ‘fantasy’ album. Fantasy worlds inhabit strange and engaging spaces that call to be explored and yet are filled with very human characters and issues. This album is precisely that; Cave creates fictional wonders. Bright horses, galleon ships and mystical ghost figures that haunt him. He then pairs these with detailed human memories and themes that are as relatable as they are powerful.

His lyricism is bizarre, but there is a lot of beautiful imagery created here and lines that leave me with chills every time. Some highlights include this mantra from High Horse:

And anyway, my baby’s coming back now on the next train
I can hear the whistle blowin’; I can hear the mighty roar
I can hear the horses prancing in the pastures of the Lord

Or the beautiful line on ‘Sun Forest’:

There is nothing more valuable than beauty, they say
There is nothing more valuable than love

What this album doesn’t have is a shortage of brilliant lyrical moments. I’ve heard a lot of Nick Cave, and I don’t think he has ever sounded so despondent. When he repeats “I love you” and “peace will come” on Spinning Song, it breaks my heart. When he whispers “yeah I know” on ‘Night Raid’ it truly hurts. And on ‘Waiting for You’ when he bellows that very phrase, you feel every word. He is hurting still, and it feels like he can’t leave that grief. Yet in some ways, he has nurtured that grief and allowed himself to make sense of it. He is harrowing, but he is equally calm and collected. 

Alongside great lyricism and harrowing vocal performances, the production is extremely lavish and varied. The song structures sometimes unfold at a snail’s pace, sure, but when they reach a peak, they plateau and glide right into heaven. This album has some of the best production I’ve heard all year. Tracks like Bright HorsesGalleon Ship and Spinning Song are highlights. The production allows the album to stay haunting, even in the moment’s Cave isn’t around.

I’ve had a lot of nice things to say about this album, but there is one thing that damages the experience for me. The first disc of this album is made up of 8 tracks of varying lengths and the second disc is made up of two 10+ min tracks and a short interlude. It is in the second disc where this album loses me. The production takes on an ambient tone and the lyricism, while sometimes powerful, take on a more meandering and rambling approach. These aren’t terrible tracks, but it makes it harder to get through and weigh the overall experience down. 

Despite that, though, Ghosteen is a very poetic album. There are several allegorical themes and metaphorical concepts that make it hard to grasp at first. But this is very much an album about grief. It’s an album about visions of innocence, dreams of freedom, creating a metaphysical place for his son and reaching the titular Ghosteen that haunts every track. A longing to be with his child – an emptiness he tries to fill with his creations. It is beautiful and worth your attention.

Listen to: Waiting for YouGalleon Ship and Bright Horses.

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