It’s a rare thing to see an artist’s worldview change overnight. For decades, Nick Cave has been goth rock’s hyperliterate poet laureate, famous for his intricately molded stories about rogues and “badlanders” all in the throes of anguish. (He has also always written beautiful love songs.) But where writing about doom and despair once seemed like a lark — see “Stagger Lee,” John Finn’s Wife,” Murder Ballads, etc. — the freak death of his 15-year-old son Arthur four years ago rightfully shook him to his core. His last album, 2016’s Skeleton Tree, was recorded after Arthur’s death but mostly written before it. His latest, however, seems like a broader, and altogether more stunning reaction to losing his son.
He split the album, which bears the self-explanatory title Ghosteen, into two acts. He is avoiding the standard press cycle, opting for audience Q&As lately, so here is all he has said about the record so far: “The songs on the first album are the children. The songs on the second album are their parents. Ghosteen is a migrating spirit.” It’s a holistic portrait of a father grieving, and while the songs are often heartbreaking — he dwells on and repeats phrases like “It’s a long way to find peace of mind” on the closing track “Hollywood,” on the parents’ half — there is also a strange hope within the songs.
Ghosteen as you would quite rightfully expect is not an ‘easy listen’ but it is a masterpiece of melancholy. You mourn right along with him and hope he finds solace.