I've been listening to Nick Cave a lot since the end of December. At some point after Christmas while in town, stumbling around in a post-Christmas/ grief fog, I went into a record shop and bought Carnage, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis's lockdown album. It rapidly took up residence on my turntable. Recorded without The Bad Seeds it's an impressionistic, image- drenched record, eight intense, gripping, emotional and sometimes incredibly heavy songs. At times it takes my breath away. I can feel anxiety building in my chest as some of the songs unfold but then Warren's synths, the string section or (especially) the choir burst in and the tension explodes. The opener, Hand Of God, begins with paino and Nick's voice, 'There are some people trying to find out who/ There are some people trying to find out why/ There are some people who aren't trying to find anything/ But that kingdom in the sky...'. As the last syllable dies away the song lurches with a huge descending synth sound and the thump of bass drum comes in, strings sweep and Nick starts singing about going to the river. The chanting backing vocals- 'Hand of God/ Hand of God...'- fade in suddenly and unexpectedly. It's tense, dramatic and transporting, utterly convincing. Three songs later we have White Elephant, riding in on a broken drum loop and cellos, and Nick's narrator speaking/ singing about George Floyd, statues being tossed into the sea and a 'Botticelli Venus with a penis riding an enormous scalloped fan'. The violence in the lyrics increases, the elephant hunter/ white supremacist declaring he'll 'shoot you in the fucking face/ If you think of coming round here again'. Cave has often dealt with murder but this is something else, rooted in the US, Trump and race- and then again out of nowhere the song shifts completely as the choir launch in, 'A time is coming/ A time is nigh/ For the kingdom/ In the sky'. It's incredible.
On Lavender Fields and Shattered Ground Nick is back where previous albums have been, songs that seem to be in some way a father trying to deal with the death of his son (this is partly why I've been drawn to Nick Cave's albums recently). Shattered Ground has a verse which seems to be about Arthur Cave- 'Everywhere you are I am/ And everywhere you are, well I will hold your hand again/ Only you are beautiful, only you are true'- and as the song finishes with Nick singing 'goodbye, goodbye, goodbye/ Oh baby, goodbye', I turn it in towards myself and it actually helps.
I've also been playing Push The Sky Away a lot, the 2013 album with The Bad Seeds that contains at least three 21st century Cave classics- the ghostly synths and hushed vocals of the title track, the epic Higgs- Bosun Blues and Jubilee Street. From there I went into Skeleton Tree. The truth is that I've previously avoided both Skeleton Tree (largely written and recorded before Arthur Cave's death but then reworked somewhat as Nick tried to work through his grief) and Ghosteen ( released in 2019). Subconsciously and maybe consciously I swerved both. But since Isaac's death I've felt a need to deal with both albums. I downloaded Skeleton Tree years ago and it's sat on my hard drive ever since, unplayed and unburned to CD. It's a beautiful and broken album, restrained musically and raw emotionally. The music has moved away from traditional songs with verses and chorus and is much more experimental. It doesn't have the drama of Carnage or the full band performances of Push The Sky Away, Warren Ellis becoming Nick's right hand man and dealing more in ambient sounds and washes of synth.
At times, as an album, it is almost too much. This song is about as hopeless and as real as he's ever sounded, a giant whirlpool of a song, built over hissing drums and a descending synth chord sequence, Nick and the listener being sucked down into the song's heart.
'Nothing really matters anymore/ I saw you there in the supermarket/ With your red dress falling and your eyes are to the ground/ Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone'. This gaping loss is countered somewhat with the lines 'You're still in me/ I need you/ In my heart...', a glimmer of light among the horror, but it's a fucking long, slow, trawl through a man's grief and despair and it resonates with me a great deal. 'Just breathe/ Just breathe' he sings at the end. It is almost more than I can take but I am drawn back to it. I can see why for some fans this is an album that might be filed away after a few plays, admired but difficult to get through.
That leaves me with Ghosteen which I don't own yet and feel more and more like I need to. The only song from Ghosteen I do own is Leviathan (which came via a Best Of 2019 magazine freebie CD) and which is yet another intensely emotional, visceral and cathartic song. .
I'm not sure I can fully articulate the impact these songs are having on me at the moment but I have no doubt that a) they wouldn't have meant the same a few months ago and b) they are doing me some good.