Nick Cave - Ghosteen

Nick Cave – Ghosteen

One of the greatest problems you can face as a music journalist is the short time spent living with a new record. There are many well-documented cases of an album being poorly received in initial reviews, only for it to sweeten with age. Weezer’s “Pinkerton”, for example. This led to an interesting conversation with my editor.

I didn’t know how to assess Ghosteen. Nick Cave has been slowly abandoning the bluster and noise of Dig! Lazarus, Dig! and the Grinderman albums for a more serene, contemplative approach previously heard on The Boatman’s Call in recent times. Whilst this decade’s Bad Seeds output has been rather sparse and minimalist, his surprise release Ghosteen sees almost everything stripped away, bar Nick’s spoken word beat poetry and a blanket of ambient loops, courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis. As a result, this isn’t an immediate album for all occasions, like Let Love In or Grinderman II – the former being my recommended entry point for anyone new to Nick Cave and his many projects.

This certainly isn’t an entry point for newcomers, but it’s an interesting new chapter in Cave’s saga for the initiated.

On that note, it would be sensible to rate this album a 5-7. However, in design, a tried and true mantra is that it’s preferable to release something that’s a 10 to some and a 1 to others, rather than a 7 to everyone. A 7 is liked by all, but loved by none. Strong reactions are good. It’s not that I feel that this album is a 5 or a 7; it’s a 1-3 or a 9-10, but I can’t tell which. For the first time in my career, an album had left me utterly dumbfounded. In my time of desperation, I invited some friends over for a listen.

With its glacial, funereal vibe, utterly devoid of percussion, it quickly became apparent that this isn’t an album to enjoy with friends, demanding the listener’s complete, isolated attention. They came to the same conclusion – they didn’t know how to rate it, either.

Whilst The Bad Seeds’ last album, Skeleton Tree was often viewed through the lens of Nick Cave’s recent loss of his son, the album was almost (if not totally) complete by the time of his passing. The one thing we all noticed immediately was the gaping void left where Conway Savage’s soaring backing vocals should have been. That’s when it hit us: THIS, not Skeleton Tree, is Nick’s grieving album. ‘The Spinning Song’ talks of a prince who – with his chilli-black hair – sounds remarkably like Nick himself. It talks of him in the past tense. It’s obviously autobiographical, a lament to the loss of youth and all the death and tragedy that comes with getting older. In “Bright Horses”, the rose-tinted lenses fall away in a strangely devastating moment of candidness.

Even a week on, I am still digesting Ghosteen. It’s a strange, beautifully bewildering record that I’m finding equally bewildering and enchanting. It may not be Nick’s best opus, but this is certainly what he does best: not exactly subverting expectation, but forcing us to reassess our instruments of appraisal entirely.

  1. This album is a 10 mate.

    You shouldn’t be reviewing music at all if you don’t hear that first time.

    Instant classic

  2. Good, honest, considered review. There’s an almost hard to carry amount of feeling in this record that makes it beautiful and rich but overwhelming. Musically, the songs can be a bit indistinguishable. It’s a concept album (and Nick has earned the right to do whatever the fuck he likes). If you love it great but it is powerful enough to draw out conflicting responses and that’s ok too, as the reviewer says

  3. The reason this is such a bad review is the complete lack of education or info on the subject.

    In the same way Bowies “blackstar” was a moving work of genius about his own impending death, so is this.

    The album is largely about the death of Caves teenage son, hence the title. And to produce such genius in the aftermath of such a life changing tragedy is a why this album is above criticism.

    To not understand that or even mention the background to Caves recent life events and to write such a pathetic review humming and highing about the 1-3 or 9-10 score, is amateur journalism you would expect from Smash Hits in the 80s

  4. He did Loz to be fair

    But in my defence I was bored by the terrible review by then and missed the brief reference

  5. I know little about Nick Cave. This review tells me (1) the album is (consistently) ‘funereal’, which it obviously is. (2) It is probably about the death of his son and his previous album possibly wasn’t. (3) It demands your complete attention but it’s probably going to depress you. That’s all I need to know. Good review. His score is his opinion, to which he is entitled like anyone else. “You shouldn’t be reviewing” and “find another job” is arrogant nonsense that smacks of fanboy.

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.