Nick Cave / Warren Ellis
2021 • ROCK/EXPERIMENTAL • GOLIATH
BEST NEW MUSIC
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ first non-soundtrack album is grand, bold and sharp. CARNAGE has the most violent lyrics and the most determined sound in years.
Nick Cave’s music has always been violent and has treated its listeners with aggressiveness. But, for some time now, fans of the singer who has been performing with The Bad Seeds band since the 1980s did not feel this violence that was marked and decisive at the beginning of their career. Cave’s latest projects, a trilogy of albums — the last two of which suffered from the influence of Arthur’s death, his 15-year-old son —, rarely showed such violence, seeming more focused on investigating the reasons for life and the postmortem. However, on his latest release, CARNAGE, Cave, alongside his longtime friend and bandmate Warren Ellis, seems to return to his roots, delivering a great and visceral project.
Cave and Ellis have known each other for a long time. Warren joined Cave’s band in the mid-1990s. However, the relationship between the two developed sharply, creating a strong bond of friendship. Throughout the 2000s, both collaborated together, outside of The Bad Seeds, on dozens of soundtracks and scores. But, it was only now, almost after 30 years of companionship and several jobs, that they both decided to make an album itself. To put it simply, Cave was compulsively writing several texts in his home during the quarantine, using all the events of the past year as inspiration. He quickly met with Ellis and they both improvised these texts as songs — very similar to Ghosteen‘s creative process. CARNAGE was the result of it, which Nick defined as “a brutal but very beautiful record nested in a communal catastrophe.” Ellis added: “Making Carnage was an accelerated process of intense creativity.” Upon hearing the record, you know they weren’t lying.
CARNAGE brings together all the best facets of Nick Cave’s career, from his violent sentences that kick sage words into the listener’s ear to religious sonority that seems to provide a certain transcendence for those who hear it. The album features the lyrics of violence that seems fun for Cave, but also, a sonority that makes him look like a god who is above all of us. Although CARNAGE is perhaps less emotional and intimate than its predecessor, it still manages to be more ambitious, with more intense and daring synthesizers and lyrics that rarely carry catchy hooks and prefer to focus their efforts on painting images in listeners’ heads, whether these are mundane scenes or eccentric dreams. Throughout the album, Cave quotes “The kingdom in the sky.” In CARNAGE, this version and vision of paradise could not be more visceral and mutilated.
The album starts off with “Hand of God,” which seems to establish an almost perfect connection between Cave’s last album. The track starts with a piano with Nick reciting just a few words. This can easily be associated with the lull that Ghosteen delivers in its last minutes. However, quickly, a thick synthesizer passes through our heads like an airplane turbine and the track takes another turn. The song then becomes a kind of evil prayer that seems to invoke a kind of entity, an entity that will follow us throughout the album. While Nick releases metaphors that seem to make an association with death (“Gonna swim to the middle, never come up again”), background vocals sing, “Hand of God.” The result is unlike anything Cave has been doing in the past few years.
Although, as already mentioned, the compositions of CARNAGE are not as intimate and, as a consequence, emotional as those of Ghosteen, Nick’s lyrics here also play a cathartic role, but from a different perspective. In the title track of the album, Nick paints images of a hopeless present, a monotonous gray life where the only entertainment is pessimistic books on violence and murder. Between the lines, however, the props in this setting are more potent than himself, with his memories reminiscent of his lover and the sun reminiscent of his son. In “Lavender Fields,” in turn, accompanying a beautiful orchestra, Cave sings about ripening using a lavender field as a reference for the changes. In the first verse, he probably shows himself as a young man who has a unique path ahead of him. However, later in the song, everything seems more still, with his friends missing and his beloved being just a voice in his head. Although these songs don’t have such fantastical lyrics, they are still incredible.
However, in the meantime, CARNAGE manages to deliver a more interesting sound. While the Ghosteen sonority seems more limited, although grand, the sound here seems to be more comprehensive, bold, and louder. Take, for example, “Old Time,” which starts with drums and idiophones alongside a white synth noise. Over time, the track grows, even more, reaching the bridge and delivering dark violins and cellos that seem to come out of a classic horror musical. On the opposite side, “Albuquerque” delivers something softer and minimalist, almost as if Cave was doing a serenade of body and soul on the spiritual plane. While classical vocals and instruments perform majestically in the background, a synthesizer adds a deeper touch to the whole song, taking it a little out of reality.
But the best song from CARNAGE is the point where all these factors mentioned are together and in their closest state to perfection. “White Elephant,” carries the violence that Nick has always used in his compositions, in addition to being a political protest that walks between plausible reality and an imaginary world. In sound, on the other hand, it is the most daring and determined, with opaque industrial beats that contrast with an extremely thick synthesizer, which at the end of the day ended up being the most striking and captivating moment of the entire record. On the track, Cave addresses the murder of George Floyd, as well plays a “white hunter,” a person who would shoot anyone for any reason. Just before the track plummeted into a sort of light church choir religious band, Cave sings, “I’ll shoot you in the fucking face/I’ll shoot you for just for fun.” Cave didn’t sound like he used to as he does here.
The last two tracks on the album are more lukewarm but still great. Unlike Ghosteen where the last tracks were monsters of more than 10 minutes, here the final songs seem more friendly and inviting. “Shattered Ground,” has a sparkling dreamy sound that can easily be associated with the actions of mystical entities. In the song, Cave’s lover is represented by the moon. “My moon in the night sky, with pale eyes/And pale skin and long hair covering her naked body/And sometimes she’s laughing and sometimes she’s crying,” he sings. However, as well as several tracks from Cave’s discography, this one has other possible meanings, such as him singing about the presence of his son even after his physical death. The last song, “Balcony Man,” sounds more mournful, however, its lyrics are more pleasant from a certain point of view. After painting himself in a setting worthy of a depressing film, he sings while looking at the sun with a little hope, “This morning is amazing and so are you.” His final sentence, however, closes everything with a golden key, “What doesn’t kill you just makes you crazier.”