Caves voice is richer than ever on this stunning double album that sets desperation against empathy and faith
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 18th album was casually announced, a week before its release, in answer to an online query from a fan on Caves Red Hand Files website. That says a lot about how Nick Cave has transformed himself over the last 12 months. Previously an entertaining but guarded interviewee, he has, more or less, thrown himself open to the public. His website began with Cave posting the words You can ask me anything online. Hes subsequently answered dozens of fans questions, from the trivial to the metaphysical, eloquently and at length.
His most recent tour was effectively its live incarnation, based around an audience Q&A, conducted without a moderator. Anyone who has attended an artist Q&A where a particularly banzai fan has ended up in possession of the microphone knows what a bold high-wire act that is. The accidental death of his son Arthur in 2016, he said, has led him to see people in a different way, giving him a deep feeling toward other people and an absolute understanding of their suffering.
And yet, for all his new-found empathy and openness, some things about Nick Cave remain enigmatic. What, for example, are we supposed to make of Ghosteens cover, a kitschy, fairytale landscape illustration that looks not unlike one of those leaflets Jehovahs Witnesses hand out at shopping centres? His description of the album is also pretty gnomic: the eight songs on the first album are the children; the two lengthy tracks and spoken word piece on album two are their parents.
Anyone seeking a more prosaic description of Ghosteens contents might note that, sonically, it continues and extends the weightless, drifting style of its two predecessors. Its not entirely clear how Bad Seeds drummer Thomas Wydler passed his time in the studio, given that this time around, there are virtually no rhythms with the more punishing of Warren Elliss tape loops and electronics replaced by warm analogue synthesiser that gives proceedings a faintly proggy feel. Indeed, Ghosteen occasionally feels like an infinitely warmer, sweeter sibling of 2016s Skeleton Tree. While that album forced its most beautiful melodies to pick their way gingerly through minefields of explosive noise and eerie, discordant soundscapes – or to submit to Cave singing them in an alarmingly parched, numb voice here theyre bolstered by soft, pillowy harmonies and stately piano. Caves voice, meanwhile, sounds rich. At an age when singers tend to start losing some of their range, his appears to be getting wider: its hard to imagine the twentysomething who snarled and howled his way through Saint Huck or Your Funeral My Trial daring to attain the high notes he achieves on The Spinning Song.