Artist: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
Label: Goliath Records
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have been collaborating one way or another for quite some time now. Mainly through Cave’s band, the Bad Seeds, their side project, Grinderman, and as a duo through a number of film scores and soundtrack work.
Carnage is the first fully formed standard album they’ve done which sees Ellis, the musical consigliere in the Bad Seeds, pulling together and orchestrating mellifluous tunes to complement Cave’s euphonious vocals. In many ways, the album was born out of lockdown, Cave taking stock of life and commenting that Carnage is “a brutal but very beautiful record embedded in a communal catastrophe“.
In recent years we’ve seen the Bad Seeds release Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen, albums that appear to be highly personal and introspective, bleak and raw, Cave writing and singing from the depths of his soul, exposing his inner demons and haunted dreams while pursuing answers that might or might not exist following the sudden and tragic death of his son in 2015. Cave also toured solo in 2019, with just a piano to accompany him, singing songs from his vast back catalogue and taking all and any questions from an audience keen to hear his stories and views. Nothing was off limits and it was both humorous and at times uncomfortable but ultimately cathartic (see Into Music review here).
Carnage seems to be a natural progression of those former two albums with evident continuity but also more than a glimpse of the dark lyrical humour and sound we’ve come to associate with Cave and Ellis’s earlier work in both the Bad Seeds and Grinderman.
Hand Of God is the album opener, starting off with Cave quietly eulogizing against a soft piano before the track drops and a more insistent, impatient and urgent back beat turns things around, allowing the singer to prophesize from his lectern while accompanied by backing gospel harmonies.
The album’s title track, Carnage provides Ellis with the musical landscape to showcase exquisite, layered arrangements that are patently clever in technique yet allow Cave’s voice to take centre stage. The music is epic and orchestral with a choir singing “it’s only love” as the song fades out, beautiful.
Elsewhere, White Elephant is my own personal favourite track. The song is edgy in its delivery, synth and bass-heavy. Cave’s vocal is focused and doesn’t fuck about Tinged with a clear element of menace, the song’s white supremacist protagonist singing about shooting you in the fucking face and:
A protester kneels on the neck of a statue
The statue says, “I can’t breathe”
The protester says, “Now you know how it feels”
And he kicks it into the sea
It’s powerful stuff and while the song progresses to include another catchy gospel sing-a-long, it remains somewhat unsettling and disturbing, without doubt a song for the times.
Balcony Man closes off the 8 track album, a sparse monologue with Cave at the height of his powers, the song and the feeling of his voice rising before proclaiming, “yeah this much I know to be true, this morning is amazing and so are you“. It feels hopeful, it feels uplifting and right now that’s good enough for me.
Carnage by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis is available now on all the usual streaming services and will be release on both vinyl and CD formats from 28 May 2021.