It seemed clear from Nick Cave’s announcement of Ghosteen, a double-album split between two conceptual halves (children and parents) that centers around a very real expression of grief, that it’d be the kind of album that would require time and space to process. That there was a running thread of comments on its Youtube premiere, some of them too snarky for something so fragile and overwhelming, felt like a strange kind of irony. But an initial consensus seemed to arise, at least: This is devastatingly beautiful, but markedly different than the kind of music Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds are known for creating.
I’m still processing it myself—it’s why you won’t see a review here for another week or so—but there is one moment that’s even more devastating than the others, and it’s the 14-minute closing track “Hollywood.” In contrast to the more surreal, gently dreamy keyboard tones that permeate the entirety of the album’s first half, the second carries a heavier weight, expanding on the darkness of Skeleton Tree but with more of a concerted effort to find its way back into the light. But it never quite arrives; it’s the album’s heaviest song, the only one with pronounced drums in the mix, a thrum of ominous bass and a haunted narrative marked by sightings of a “kid with a bat face.” Cave, still the poetic storyteller as ever, narrates a tale not about a death-row inmate, nor Lazarus touching down in Los Angeles, but of his own experience of being trapped in a kind of grief-stricken purgatory—which detours through a Buddhist fable—reliving his own loss and acknowledging its inevitability: “Everyone’s losing someone.” It’s not an easy or comfortable realization, and it ends without resolution, only the knowledge that we all must carry this loss in some way, until our own light finally fades: “And I’m just waiting now for my time to come…And I’m just waiting now for peace to come.”
From Ghosteen, out now via Bad Seed Ltd
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.