When Nick Cave drops, you drop everything to listen.
Through his 90s and 2000s output, Nick Cave famously became one of the most thespian names in music. While rough around the edges, his earliest fortes into post-punk were made so exceptional by Cave’s one-of-a-kind and dramatically bombastic vocal performances alongside the idiosyncratic and ceaselessly creative instrumentation. Delightful and sumptuous piano ballads were prominent in The Boatman’s Call, Let Love In was by far Cave and his band’s, The Bad Seeds, most versatile record, jumping from gothic-rock to post-punk to so many more yet never stumbling over itself in the process, and albums such as Murder Ballads (my personal favorite of Nick Cave’s catalog) saw Cave designing characters of his imagining, using his charmingly ostentatious vocalisms, to create his own non-visual musical of sorts. Mind you, all of these albums were at the immaculate level of lyrical ingenuity and pensiveness to rival musics' best lyricists.
However, Cave’s 2010 catalog has been by far his most despondent yet. What happens when one of the music’s most theatrical faces loses one of the things he loves the most? Ghosteen and Skeleton Tree should answer your question. Both of which in response to the death of Cave’s son, Arthur Cave, who tragically fell off a cliff in 2015, these albums created a more minimalist soundscape than any Cave album had done prior, removing all of the glamour and grandiosity that his earlier albums brought and replacing them with a melancholic and downcast ambient environment. Skeleton Tree served as a morbid and immediate response to the death of Arthur, while Ghosteen was Cave's coping album. With Carnage, while Nick Cave still is not fully returning to his antecedent extravagance, he is venturing into an electronic direction, featuring prominent production from Bad Seeds member Warren Ellis, though not comprehensively abandoning the minimalism of Ghosteen and Skeleton Tree.
Trapped behind the barriers of lockdown and isolated from the other members of the Bad Seeds besides Warren Ellis, whom Cave has only worked with independently on film soundtracks, Cave crafts a work that is topically versatile, showing his grief, despair, anger, loneliness, dysphoria, inner-tension, sentimentality, confusion, and trepidation; all sprouted from the pandemic this album was born out of. Nevertheless, lockdown is not the only inspiration for this album’s creation. Cave touches upon the pandemic-manufactured-pandemonium that ensued within the United States, such as the Black Lives Matter protest in the summer of 2020 on White Elephant or back ending the project with the classic Nick Cave devotion ballads that his earlier output relished in, this time slightly more inspired by showing love and finding comfort through the troubling times that we have landed ourselves in the middle of. The album structure may seem a tad bit scatterbrained at first, though is united through the album’s focus on things that may have been burdening Cave’s always active mind during the past year.
Viewing the record from an auditory perspective, it seems the vacant of complexities yet still ferociously poignant ambient deserts of sorts, which populated Ghosteen, have evolved into typically less sparse electronic pieces, though never reaching that level of flamboyance that albums such as Murder Ballads contained, White Elephant’s eruptive crescendo aside. This set of tracks are still able to convey as much nuanced emotion in their subtleties as their predecessors are, however.
Ultimately, the most impressive and thing about Carnage ends up being the fact that Nick Cave can make an album this remarkable nearly 40 years into his genre-defying career. The pacing of this album does fall off a bit towards the project’s midpoint with underproduced and slower than desired ballads, something that stops this project from truly blossoming as much as Cave’s other masterworks, but that’s to be expected with a project produced under the same conditions Carnage was. It’s the result of 11 months in lockdown, with that time spent diligently refining an album that takes on issues the overwhelming majority of society is currently facing; one of the most prestigious albums that can truly be labeled under the “quarantine album” denomination. Ecstatic to see what Cave and the Bad Seeds are able to cook up on their next record together.
Side Note- Why does Shattered Ground sound like a Playboi Carti Self-Titled beat?
Favorite Tracks: Hand of God, Old Time, White Elephant, Albuquerque, Balcony Man
Worst Track: Shattered Ground