Nick Cave could never be accused of adopting a whimsical perspective on life and how to live it. But the gothic troubadour’s world was plunged into very real darkness with the tragic death of his teenage son Arthur in 2015. The
awful event occurred during the recording of his previous album, Skeleton Tree – a release that trembled with the raw jolt of half-processed grief. It was extraordinary, consumed with emotion so intense listening felt like an intrusion.
After the shock comes the silence. Or so it is tempting to conclude, upon spending time with Cave’s sprawling and crepuscular 17th LP. Ghosteen doesn’t specifically address Cave’s bereavement. Yet allusions to the afterlife are ever-present. “Ghosteen” is the singer’s term for “migrating spirit”; elsewhere his lyrics are hauntingly specific in their imagery.
There are hints of Leonard Cohen in his sardonic old age in “Bright Horses” and its juxtaposition of a choir with Cave’s world-weary diction.