Let’s start with the album, because that’s what this whole Musical Advent feature is all about. It’s typically Cave; dark, brooding, portentous and stark. Following the path laid down by Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen, it is stripped bare, moody, atmospheric. Unsurprisingly, the lyrics are pure poetry, often a throwback to his old notebooks. “By the side of the road is a thing with horns/ That steps back into the trees and a child is born”. You half expect The Bad Seeds to follow this with a mournful “Tupelo-oh”.
It’s a very, very good album. But here’s the thing…
Nick Cave and I go way back, to the chaos of The Birthday Party. For decades, he was ours. Right up to (and including) Push The Sky Away, he remained on the periphery. A stick man in a suit with unfeasible hair, singing about the devil and death and unspeakable horrors in Stagger Lee. Now he, along with his faithful sidekick, Warren Ellis, seems to be ubiquitous by comparison. They have been claimed by people who have no right to them.
In the past, Nick Cave albums came along infrequently and sporadically. Putting his rock n’ roll project, Grinderman, to one side for a moment, there was a five year gap between Dig, Lazarus, Dig and Push The Sky Away. Four years between Lazarus and Abbatoir Blues. Four years between The Boatman’s Call and No More Shall We Part. The gaps in between mattered, they served to whet our appetite. Furthermore, reflect on those albums. They are all vastly different, one never knew where Cave would go next.
Then we have elephant in the room – what has Cave & Ellis done with The Bad Seeds. Those albums I referred to above are brilliant partly because of the presence of The Bad Seeds. We are talking about a band who collectively are the tightest in the world and individually are amongst the very best in their discipline. Ghosteen saw them disappear into the furthest, darkest corner of the studio. They were virtually invisible. Carnage makes that perceived invisibility a reality. And that’s a shame.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have earned the right to do precisely what they choose. Who am I to question that? All I’m saying is that I preferred it when they weren’t part of the mainstream, when they released music less frequently, when they didn’t play stadia.
Ultimately, despite all of my hang ups, Carnage is a very, very good album.