There’s nothing more personal than grief. It affects us all in different ways, but the one commonality often tends to be the insular. We retreat into ourselves, finding little comfort in the company of others. It’s selfish, in a way. But it’s also a necessary part of the grieving process.
It’s this truism that makes Ghosteen such a remarkable and selfless piece of art. Nick Cave has taken the unquantifiable loss of his son and chosen to share that pain with the world. And the quiet, ethereal beauty Cave manages to find on this journey has resulted in the best album of his long and storied career.
Cave has always had an innate ability to create lush visuals with his words and melodies, and track "Spinning Song" begins the Ghosteen story almost like a scene heading at the beginning of a script, grounding the listener in a a mood and feeling rather than a physical setting. Cave’s repeated refrain of “a peace will come, a peace will come, a peace will come” reads less as a statement of reassurance and more of a desperate prayer for solace.
And with the following song "Bright Horses", the mist rolls in, cool and damp, sending a deep chill through your bones. It becomes clear that this will not be an easy listen. The raw emotion is on full display and through the chorus of vocals, strings and somber piano, we can begin to piece together Cave’s fragile state of mind. In doing this, Cave sheds his usual bravado backed by strong percussive rhythms and instead lets the ambient waves of synths and strings accompany his words.
Each song throughout the Ghosteen album is heartbreaking in its own exquisite way. And just when you think you can’t possibly feel any more, the next song manages to wring a little more out of you. There won’t be another album like Ghosteen this year, and there’s a very good chance we won’t hear anything like it again in our lifetimes. But despite the pain, and the sadness and the deep sense of loss, there’s an unexpected life-affirming recitation to it all that Cave may or may not have meant to convey but manages to shine through the darkness nonetheless.