Ghosteen

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Ghosteen
A painting of a wild forest with various animals, including white horses, lions, lambs, leopards, monkeys, swans, flamingos, parrots and butterflies. Sun rays are visible through the trees and a rainbow is visible on the mountainside. Uppercase white text on top reads "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds"; larger uppercase white text in the centre reads "Ghosteen".
Studio album by
Released4 October 2019 (2019-10-04)
Recorded2018–2019
Studio
Genre
Length68:10
Label
  • Ghosteen
  • Bad Seed
Producer
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds chronology
Distant Sky: Live in Copenhagen
(2018)
Ghosteen
(2019)

Ghosteen is the seventeenth studio album by the Australian rock band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It was released on 4 October 2019 on Ghosteen Ltd and on 8 November 2019 on Bad Seed Ltd, both the band's own imprints. Ghosteen is a double album—the band's first since Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus (2004)—and the final part of a trilogy of albums that includes Push the Sky Away (2013) and Skeleton Tree (2016). Upon release, the album was met with widespread critical acclaim.

Background[edit]

In July 2015, during the recording sessions for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' sixteenth studio album Skeleton Tree (2016), Nick Cave's 15-year-old son Arthur died after falling from the Ovingdean Gap near Brighton, England.[3] Skeleton Tree and the related documentary film One More Time with Feeling were released the following year; Skeleton Tree's lyrical themes and its "bleak and disturbing" sound led to misconceptions that the album was entirely about Arthur's death.[4] The majority of the songs on the album, however, were written prior to his death, with Cave only improvising and amending subsequent lyrics during the album's final sessions.[5]

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds returned to live performances in January 2017 and four months later released the compilation album Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (2017), which was originally due for release in 2015.[6] In April 2018 Cave began a series of initially limited question-and-answer events called Conversations with Nick Cave, in which he explored the relationship with his audience;[7] Cave's efforts in engaging directly with his fans continued in September 2018 when he began a blog, The Red Hand Files, with a similar concept where fans send in questions. In the same month, pianist Conway Savage–a member of the band since 1990–died of a brain tumour, which he had been diagnosed with a year earlier;[8] Ghosteen was ultimately dedicated to Savage.[9] In the weeks after his death, the band released the extended play Distant Sky: Live in Copenhagen (2018) and premiered a full-length concert film of the same name.[10][11]

Recording[edit]

Ghosteen was recorded in various locations in the United States, England and Germany between 2018 and early 2019. The main sessions were held at Woodshed Recording Studios in Malibu and NightBird Recording Studios in West Hollywood, California in the US; Retreat Studios in Brighton, England; and Candy Bomber Studio in Berlin, Germany, with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis heading production. Further sessions, featuring the recording of a string ensemble with orchestrator Ben Foster, were held at Air Studios in London, England.[9] By January 2019, Cave said he and the Bad Seeds had "nearly finished a new record".[12] Ghosteen was subsequently mixed by Cave, Ellis, Lance Powell and Andrew Dominik at Conway Recording Studios in Los Angeles, California and mastered by Chris Gehringer.[9]

Composition[edit]

Ghosteen is a double album–Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' first since Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus (2004)–and contains 11 tracks. The first part of the album features eight songs, which Nick Cave describes as "the children"; the second part of the album contains two longer songs and a spoken-word track, which he describes as "their parents". In summarising Ghosteen, Cave referred to the album both as "a migrating spirit"[13] and the final part of a trilogy of albums the band began with Push the Sky Away (2013), which also includes Skeleton Tree.[6]

Lyrics[edit]

Cave began writing lyrics for the songs on Ghosteen in February 2017. Cave, who had "very deliberately" not written since the end of 2015 when amending the lyrics for Skeleton Tree, attributed a "new sort of lyrical confidence" to a process of "enforced shutdown", where he would "confine [him]self to barracks for a while". The lyrics were written at Cave's home in Brighton, a change from his usual "disciplined" routine of writing lyrics in a private office.[14] The change in environment and routine led to Cave "amassing a stockpile of lines and thoughts, images and ideas" instead of writing songs in a more traditional manner. As with the lyrics on Skeleton Tree, Cave abandoned the narrative-based approach he was known for, as he believed it to be "restrictive". Explaining his new approach to writing, Cave said: "The idea that we live life in a straight line, like a story, seems to me to be increasingly absurd and, more than anything, a kind of intellectual convenience … There is a pure heart, but all around it is chaos."[6] In the first-ever issue of The Red Hand Files, Cave elaborated that he found an authentic "way to write beyond the trauma … that deals with all manner of issues but does not turn its back on the issue of the death of my child". He said new-found method allowed him to write "beyond the personal into a state of wonder. In doing so the colour came back to things with a renewed intensity and the world seemed clear and bright and new."[15]

Several publications described Ghosteen's lyrics as dealing with themes of loss, death, grief,[16][17] and existentialism,[18] but also noted positive themes such as empathy, faith and optimism.[4][16] The lyrics for the closing track "Hollywood" reference the story of Kisa Gotami, a Buddhist arhat who seeks help from the Buddha after the death of her child and discovers that "no one is untouched by loss."[2]

Music[edit]

Described by Pitchfork as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "most musically esoteric record",[18] Ghosteen is an ambient and electronic music album.[1][2] Like Skeleton Tree, it features extensive use of analogue synthesisers, sparse piano,[19] and drones.[20] Orchestral strings are also a prominent feature of the album;[19] the strings were arranged by conductor Ben Foster, with assistance from Sam Thompson. A five-piece string ensemble—featuring two violins, viola, cello and double bass—are featured in addition to Warren Ellis' violin.[9] Other instrumentation on the album includes several woodwinds, gamelan chimes,[19] an ondes Martenot and tablas.[9] Several critics emphasised Ghosteen's infrequent use of Thomas Wydler's drums and Jim Sclavunos' percussion in contrast to the band's previous albums.[4][19][21]

Nick Cave—usually known for his "stiff baritone"—[22] sings on several tracks in a falsetto vocal register, which has been noted for its "quavering, trembling" and "tremulous" quality.[23]

Packaging[edit]

Ghosteen's title is a combination of the word "ghost" and the Irish-language suffix "ín" (anglicised as "een"), which translates to English as "little", "small" or "benevolent". Cave took the title from a book about Irish tinkers, in which the author believes his crying child has been possessed by a ghost.[24] However, the title has often been misinterpreted as a portmanteau of "ghost" and "teen".[25][26]

Ghosteen's sleeve was designed by Cave and Hingston Studio, an independent creative agency based in London which had designed several previous Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' releases. The album's front cover art features an edited version of The Breath of Life, a 2001 painting by the artist Tom duBois.[9] The Observer's Kitty Empire described the artwork as a "kitsch paradise" that signified "a radical change of emotional landscape" for the band.[2] The album's inner sleeve features photographs of Cave and Warren Ellis shot by Matthew Thorne.[9]

Release[edit]

Ghosteen was released on 4 October 2019 on streaming services and as a digital download on Ghosteen Ltd.[27] Double CD and LP editions were released a month later on 8 November[28] on Bad Seed Ltd; both Ghosteen and Bad Seed are the band's own imprints.[29] Several album-listening events were held in 33 cities in Australia, Europe and the US on 3 October, alongside a worldwide YouTube stream featuring an animated lyric film directed by Tom Hingston.[30] The album was announced by Nick Cave in response to a fan question on The Red Hand Files, on 23 September. The title, track listing and brief descriptions of the album's songs were revealed;[13] a second follow-up post the same day included the album's cover art.[31] The lyrics to "Fireflies", Ghosteen's penultimate track, had previously been published in the first-ever issue of The Red Hand Files a year prior.[15]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
AnyDecentMusic?9.1/10[32]
Metacritic97/100[33]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4/5 stars[34]
The A.V. ClubA[35]
The Daily Telegraph5/5 stars[36]
The Guardian5/5 stars[4]
The Independent5/5 stars[37]
NME5/5 stars[21]
The Observer5/5 stars[2]
Pitchfork8.8/10[18]
Rolling Stone4.5/5 stars[38]
The Times5/5 stars[39]

Upon its release Ghosteen received widespread acclaim from critics and achieved several perfect scores. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, it received an average score of 97, based on 24 reviews.[33] It is one of the highest-scoring albums on the site,[40] as well as the highest-rated album of 2019[41] and of the 2010s.[42] Writing for The Guardian, Alexis Petridis summarised that Ghosteen featured "the most beautiful songs [Cave] has ever recorded" and awarded it a full five-out-of-five-star rating. Petridis considered the album to be "an infinitely warmer, sweeter sibling" to Skeleton Tree, noting that "it continues and extends the weightless, drifting style of its two predecessors."[4] In another five-star review for NME, Elizabeth Aubrey said "if Skeleton Tree gave a glimpse into grief in its immediate aftermath, Ghosteen is a grief considered", drawing comparisons between Cave's lyrics and CS Lewis' A Grief Observed (1960), in that the album "feels like the trying-to-make-sense stage of grief, even when there's often no sense to be found." Aubrey praised Ghosteen as "a work of extraordinary, unsettling scope", calling it the Bad Seeds' most beautiful album "and also one of the most singularly devastating."[21]

The Independent reviewer Helen Brown called Ghosteen "astonishing" in a five-out-of-five-star review, praising in particular Cave's vocals and lyrics and Warren Ellis' use of analogue synthesisers, which she described as "a warm cloud of ambient solace".[37] Clash reviewer Josh Gray awarded Ghosteen a nine-out-of-ten rating, calling the album "another chapter in Cave's captivating quest for meaningful connection in a world where we so often feel disconnected", and surmising that Ghosteen is "not a blissful or comfortable album, but it is a hopeful one … another open letter straight from artist to audience that cuts right to the core of what means to have loved, lost and loved again."[43] The A.V. Club's Marty Sartini Garner gave the album an A rating, praising its instrumentation, the otherworldly and spiritual quality of Cave's lyrics and its surprising accessibility.[35]

In a full five-star review for The Observer, Kitty Empire praised the "subtle evolutions in mood and instrumentation" in the band's sound on Ghosteen, which she said "come to peaks that are made all the more stunning by their scarcity." Empire drew comparisons to "the gravitas" of Leonard Cohen and the "hoarse, harsh beauty" of Scott Walker's final releases.[2] Pitchfork rated the album 8.8 out of 10, with reviewer Grayson Haver Currin calling it "sublime" and saying it "may be the most poignant album of [Cave's] storied career." Currin further praised Ghosteen's lyrical balance between abstract fantasies and the reality of grief, concluding that "you don’t need to be an expert in Cave's wider cosmology to be swept inside of Ghosteen … You only need the ability to suffer and the desire to survive."[18] Writing in Hot Press, Pat Carty stated that Ghosteen features "an artist laying himself bare" and called it "art as bleak as it is beautiful, and one can only hope it offers some sort of catharsis - some modicum of relief - to its creator."[44]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics are written by Nick Cave; all music is composed by Cave and Warren Ellis.

Part 1
No.TitleLength
1."Spinning Song"4:43
2."Bright Horses"4:52
3."Waiting for You"3:54
4."Night Raid"5:07
5."Sun Forest"6:46
6."Galleon Ship"4:14
7."Ghosteen Speaks"4:02
8."Leviathan"4:47
Total length:38:25
Part 2
No.TitleLength
1."Ghosteen"12:10
2."Fireflies"3:23
3."Hollywood"14:12
Total length:29:45

Personnel[edit]

All personnel credits sourced from Ghosteen's album notes.[9]

Charts[edit]

Chart (2019) Peak
position
Australian Albums (ARIA)[45] 7
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[46] 17
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[47] 1
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Wallonia)[48] 39
Czech Albums (ČNS IFPI)[49] 47
Danish Albums (Hitlisten)[50] 13
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[51] 12
Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)[52] 41
French Albums (SNEP)[53] 76
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[54] 54
Irish Albums (IRMA)[55] 14
Italian Albums (FIMI)[56] 62
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[57] 21
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[58] 16
Portuguese Albums (AFP)[59] 12
Scottish Albums (OCC)[60] 12
Spanish Albums (PROMUSICAE)[61] 63
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[62] 31
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[63] 13
UK Albums (OCC)[64] 16
UK Independent Albums (OCC)[65] 6

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format(s) Label Catalogue
Various 4 October 2019[27] Digital download · streaming Ghosteen Ltd N/A
8 November 2019[29][66] 2×CD Bad Seed Ltd BS016CD
2×LP BS016LP

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b c d e f Empire, Kitty (5 October 2019). "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen review – a heavenly haunting". The Observer. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  3. ^ Elgot, Jessica; Khomami, Nadia (15 July 2015). "Nick Cave's son dies after Brighton chalk cliffs fall | UK news". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e Petridis, Alexis (4 October 2019). "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen review – the most beautiful songs he has ever recorded". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
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External links[edit]