In July 2015, Cave’s son, Arthur, died at the age of fifteen after falling from a cliff in East Sussex. That tragedy resulted in the 2016 dark masterpiece Skeleton Tree. Now, Cave and the band are back with their follow-up album Ghosteen.
Ghosteen could have been many things. With so much raw, immediate emotion poured out on Skeleton Tree, Cave could have attempted to return to the more upbeat, rock-oriented albums of the 2000s as a way of trying to take the band back to its 'pop-ier' roots. Alternatively, Cave could have continued to explore the themes of loss and sorrow in a direct continuation of Skeleton Tree. Perhaps unsurprisingly however, Ghosteen does neither of these things.
The album is stark, minimal and,on the surface at least, just as bleak as its predecessor. However, a second listen reveals hints of light and a sense of a man coming to terms with a loss that was not there on Skeleton Tree. No song showcases this better than ‘Bright Horses’, where Cave sees beyond the dark clouds to a brighter future. The album feels very ‘spiritual’. The gorgeous mix of underlying pianos, angelic choral and light synths play beautifully with Cave’s heart-breaking lyrics.
The memory of Arthur permeates the whole album. While songs like ‘Galleon Ships’ speak of a man finding bliss in memories, there are many others which show that Cave remains a, cracked, if not completely broken, man. ‘Hollywood’ the albums 14-minute closer is the also the albums most poignant and beautiful moment. In many ways it feels like a goodbye. But a goodbye to who is another question. That songs refrain perhaps best sums up this album and the current state of Nick Cave’s heart – ‘I’m just waiting now, for my time to come’.
Ghosteen is without a doubt one of the most beautiful albums I have ever heard and a high point in the career of a man at his lowest.