Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ 17th studio album is a stripped-back, alluring meditation on grief and what comes after.
Ghosteen dropped without any prior warning. Just a week before its release, Nick Cave let fans know that 68 minutes of new music would be coming our way. The record is haunting and at times painful. Nick Cave’s voice is rich with emotion from start to finish and listening often sounds like what it must be like to get a true glimpse into the soul of another.
The opening track “Spinning Song” begins with a series of ambient sounds and echoing cries from Cave. “Bright Horses” is just Cave and the piano with melodic orchestral interludes. There are no drumbeats and “Red Right Hand” seems like a lifetime ago. Some artists may begin to lose their range as they grow older but on “Bright Horses” it seems to be the case that Cave’s has grown. His vocals seem to say the most when there are no lyrics. His vocal interludes are saturated with emotion and each note cuts deeper than the one before.
By “Waiting For You” we are moved to silence. The track is a meditation on grief and loss and its relationship with faith. Cave’s voice sounds stronger than ever and at the same time, it sounds like he is close to breaking. He sings: “Well sometimes a little bit of faith can go a long long way / Your soul is my anchor, never asked to be freed / Well sleep now, sleep now, take as long as you need.” The lyrics are poignant and they are delivered with such profound sincerity that the listener may find themselves moved to tears.
In the midst of the album, “Sun Forrest” comes like a punch to the chest. The ambient sounds weigh in with devastating lyrics and yet Cave insists that he is waiting for “the future to roll in.” Here, Cave demonstrates his unfailing lyrical ability. After times of tragedy, finding the words to say is one of the greatest challenges of the poet. Cave’s ability to create lyrics that share his profoundly personal experience of loss while at the same time creating something which resonates with those grieving is a remarkable talent.
The fourteen-minute album closer “Hollywood” is a remarkable highlight. The track holds the listener’s attention from start to finish and is the perfect way to close this mesmerizing, heart-breaking record. It could perhaps be that Ghosteen is Nick Cave’s finest work yet only the listener’s experience will inevitably be profoundly personal.