Nick Cave sings, “This track is sort of a rain cloud that retains circling overhead,” after which pauses earlier than delivering the subsequent line: “Right here it comes round once more.” That is “Carnage,” from the album of the identical identify, the primary launch credited to the duo of Cave and his longtime Bad Seeds bandmate Warren Ellis, other than their prolific output of movie scores. Simply earlier than observing the upcoming storm in his personal music, Cave has been sitting on a balcony, maybe exterior a resort room the place a girl sprawls lazily throughout the mattress. (We’ll discover him again there later.) The balcony is one in every of many motifs that recur and refract throughout Carnage: some baggage thrown behind a automobile, a Glen Campbell track, unknown creatures by the facet of the highway, and above all, “that kingdom within the sky.” Collectively, these repetitions contribute to the sense that the album is much less a group of discrete songs than one lengthy rumination in eight phases—or a circling rain cloud, coming round and round once more.
Carnage comes after a outstanding trilogy of Unhealthy Seeds releases, through which Cave and his band—among the many fiercest animals in rock’n’roll, after they wish to be—approached complete stillness. By 2019’s Ghosteen, there have been no drums and few recognizable rock devices. Cave’s previously narrative songwriting turned impressionistic and autobiographical, generally seeming to embody the mysteries of life itself. Over crystalline loops of electronics and piano, he reckoned in piercing element with the demise of his teenage son Arthur in 2015, and his personal seek for redemption within the aftermath. It was, together with the whole lot else, a pinnacle of his artistry, 40 years in. As a musician and as an individual, the place does one go from there?
For Cave and Ellis, the answer was to jettison much more cargo. They could have created Carnage as a duo partly out of pandemic necessity, however shedding the band additionally made good inventive sense. Given the Unhealthy Seeds’ latest trajectory, and the paring down of personnel, you may count on additional exploration of Ghosteen’s meditative minimalism, and at occasions that’s basically what Carnage delivers. However in its most gripping and audacious moments, the album is way wilder than its predecessor. It attracts from the formal language of contemporary cinema, involved much less with verses and choruses than pictures, settings, visceral portrayals of utmost emotional states. It begins on a smash minimize, with just a few strains of a stately Boatman’s Call-style piano ballad interrupted by a dissonant swirl of strings or electronics and an insistent mechanical pulse. Mid-lyric, Cave’s measured vocal takes on a be aware of terror, as if the ground opened below him and he’s tumbling right into a bottomless gap of the thoughts.
Cave has all the time been attuned to the facility of artifice and character, however right here, greater than ever, he’s appearing as a lot as singing. When he’s not delivering outright spoken monologues, he’s sticking to handfuls of close-by notes, counting on inflections of speech somewhat than melody for expressiveness. Essentially the most memorable a part of a given line could be the implied risk beneath the drive of this or that syllable, or the anxious method he attracts out a selected “uhhh.” For those who come to Carnage anticipating the standard virtues of rock or pop, even of Cave’s personal earlier work—riffs, tunes, grooves, and so forth—you’ll possible be disillusioned. Even for individuals who benefit from the album, it could be onerous to think about listening significantly usually. However, as is the case with loads of nice movies, replay worth appears irrelevant.
Carnage has no plot per se, however its motifs collect drive as they pile up and work together, such that listening out of order would do the album a disservice. The story they inform is a model of the one Cave has spent his entire profession telling, earlier than and after the tragedy that ruptured his private life—about our equal capacities for cruelty and love, and the flickering risk of salvation in a brutal world. “By the facet of the highway is a factor with horns/That steps again into the timber, and a baby is born,” he declaims on “Outdated Time,” whose throbbing bass and slashes of guitar present among the album’s purest musical thrills. In “Carnage,” one track later, “a reindeer frozen within the footlights steps again into the woods.” In fact, headlights are what we usually image freezing deer of their beams; footlights usually tend to illuminate performers at a theater. That sly inversion reaches again to the touch the earlier track, and we marvel if the child-giving horned creature by the highway is a model of the singer himself.
As ever, Cave makes use of overtly non secular imagery in methods each subversive and religious. The “kingdom within the sky” first seems within the album’s opening strains, the place the foreboding music suggests we’re doomed by no means to search out it. Its remaining recurrence comes close to the album’s finish, within the dreamlike “Lavender Fields,” the place a choir urges Cave’s narrator to have religion regardless of his loss: “The place did they go?/The place did they conceal?/We don’t ask who/We don’t ask why/There’s a kingdom within the sky.”
The dominion seems most memorably between these poles, within the delirious coda to “White Elephant,” the album’s centerpiece. Over a sinister rhythm observe that just about scans as hip-hop, Cave offers a thunderous monologue in character as a form of non secular embodiment of white supremacy. As protesters tear down statues, his boasts turn out to be more and more deranged. Then a drum fill and one other jarring smash minimize, this time to a drunken gospel-rock singalong, equally jubilant and grotesque: “The time is coming, the time is nigh/For the dominion within the sky.” God is many issues to many individuals, this passage suggests, and never all of them good. The album’s catchiest hook turns into an arch conceptual set piece, extra unsettling than uplifting.
If Carnage’s feverish first half generally remembers David Lynch, its austere second is extra like Terrence Malick. After “White Elephant,” the album settles into an prolonged comedown, each musically and lyrically. The abrupt tonal shifts recede in favor of Ghosteen-ish washes of placid concord; Cave’s focus zooms out past the pained countenances and rictus grins of Facet A to embody complete cosmic landscapes. The second act is barely much less satisfying than the primary, if solely as a result of it’s extra clearly an extension of the previous few Unhealthy Seeds albums. However on the planet of Carnage, these remaining 4 songs supply a tentative however hopeful decision to the preliminary chaos. It culminates with a return to the balcony, on a morning with no storms in sight, for now. “There’s a insanity in her and a insanity in me/And collectively it kinds a form of sanity,” Cave sings atop drifting synthesizers on “Shattered Floor,” a couplet that ought to resonate with anybody who has handed via hassle with a accomplice solely to search out extra on the best way. The following line comes as a shock each time I hear it, with a sudden, choked, virtually unintended directness that solely heightens its energy and obvious centrality. All the pieces is in these 5 phrases: “Oh, child, don’t depart me.”
Purchase: Rough Trade
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