A meandering journey routed in mystique forms the Bad Seeds’ new album, Ghosteen
Anoushka Khandwala
14:14 4th October 2019

As we file into Rough Trade, humidity levels rising from the autumn drizzle, excited fans are collecting their pre-ordered Ghosteen posters. The hero image of the album cover is a strange painting, depicting a mythical forest landscape featuring lions, lambs and white horses, lit by warm sunlight streaming through the leaves. The style harks back to the Renaissance, with elements of Turner inspiring the way in which the light caresses the scene.

At a first glance, it’s weird, especially after the black hole that formed the cover of Cave’s previous album, Skeleton Tree – partly a tribute to his grieving process after the untimely death of his son. As fans lie on the floor of Rough Trade in front of a screen at 10PM, the visuals start to make sense, as we’re introduced to Ghosteen as a ‘migrating spirit’, learning that the eight songs on the first album are children, while the second album consists of their parents.

As ‘Spinning Song’ graces our ears, it’s reassuring to hear Cave’s commanding voice again, in formations we haven’t witnessed before. His falsetto is debuted, quavering, trembling, but he still manages to pull it off due to the sheer emotion that backs his vocals. ‘Bright Horses’ explores more classic chord progressions as he imbues even the most mundane lyrics, “Baby’s coming back now, on the next train”, with his signature magic. The song is a waltz, whisking our hearts out of whatever depressive funk we were left with from Skeleton Tree. 

The album is one ever evolving song, the narrative travelling through strong imagery of his wife Suzie in ‘Night Raid’, commanding great surges of urgency during ‘Galleon Ship’, lifting the fans lying on the floor out of their tipsy bodies onto a higher plane. The only diminishing factor is the lyric video on screen, which ruins the beautiful imagery that’s rooted in mystique, by superposing ugly typography which spells out every lyric. It’s too literal, detracting from the triumphant, transcendental journey of the album.

Album Two sees arguably the happiest music Nick Cave has ever made during the climax of ‘Ghosteen’, accompanied by a joyous chorus and tinkling keys, bordering on the twee. ‘Fireflies’ is much stronger, Cave’s spoken word ascending to its true dominant form, sitting atop cautionary keys and a bass that builds slow, burning tension. It’s easy to see how these meandering pieces of music birthed the more concise, edited tracks that make up Album One. These are much more Cave’s style – never-ending, emotive pieces of art that see him emitting catlike whispers and high pitched oohs, recounting old legends in tremulous falsetto.

Despite a few questionable experimental moments (that simply make the albums more Bad Seeds-eque) the highlights soar to towering heights, making the piece a triumph.  Just when you think Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds can’t produce sound that is any more beautiful, they do. Watching their music bloom into such luscious peals of sonorous grace, metamorphosing from one album to the next with ease, is truly to be in the presence of greatness.

Ghosteen is out now.

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