Thursday, July 1, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1485: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

Happy Canada Day! Sorry for the delay between reviews – I wanted to grok this record in its fulness and it took a little longer than I expected.

Disc 1485 is…. Carnage

Artist: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

Year of Release: 2021

What’s up with the Cover? LETTERS. If there is a hidden meaning in how these LETTERS are arranged, it is eluding me. Elsewhere in the CD booklet they are arranged differently. This did not help me crack the code, if there is one.

How I Came To Know It: I am a Nick Cave fan, so just buying his latest album. This one came out a few months ago but the CD release was delayed. I waited. I am patient if it means I can continue to collect my dead technology.

How It Stacks Up: I have 13 Nick Cave albums. “Carnage” comes in at #7. Note that these 13 albums do not include his two records with “Grinderman.”  I will discuss Grinderman when I roll either of their records which inexplicably has still not happened. Embrace the randomness!

Ratings: 4 stars

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are two edgy, weird dudes but it is kind of like Nick Cave sings on “Shattered Ground”:

"And there is a madness in her and a madness in me
And together it forms a kind of sanity.”

Not what that song is about, but on their latest collaboration, “Carnage,” it speaks to how the respective weirdness of these two makes for a great musical partnership. Cave’s vocals are like a priest in prayer, and the dread in his delivery leaves you wondering just what dark god he is praying to. A sexy one, for sure.

Paired with this is Warren Ellis, who also plays in Cave’s backing band the Bad Seeds. If you’ve seen Ellis in concert, banging away on any of the dozen or so instruments he attacks (‘plays’ being too mild a word to describe what happens) you know he is every bit the equal of Cave’s brooding intensity.

Compared against the sparse terrors of Skeleton Tree (2016) and the lush embrace of Ghosteen (2019), “Carnage” is more in line with the former, but the songs are less filled with sorrow, and more in line with the watery mood pieces featured on “Push the Sky Away” (2012). The melodies are generally brighter and hopeful, with songs like “Lavender Fields” showcasing a man who has come to terms with experience and loss, concluding only “People ask me how I’ve changed/I say it is a singular road.”

As on “Skeleton Tree” the songs feel like they have limitless space, but that space is filled with a sort of dark matter of ambient sound. Ellis did the arrangements and walks this “empty but full” paradox skillfully. There is plenty of synth but splashes of piano and the swell of strings (often in minor keys) rise up from the ether to set you on edge. On “White Elephant” they even make you a little horny, although the effect is intensified with lyrics like:

“I am a Botticelli Venus with a penis
Riding an enormous scalloped fan
I’m a sea foam woman rising from the spray
I’m coming to do you harm
With the gun in my pants full of elephant tears.”

Getting shot with that gun won’t require a doctor so much as a shower.

Cave’s poetry is the equal of music’s greats, up there with Leonard Cohen and similarly gifted at letting you into the labyrinthine secrets of his soul, without ever sounding false or forced.

Because of the layered and intricate aspects of both the lyrics and music, “Carnage” is an album that requires your full attention. It is one of the reasons it took me longer to get to the point where I could review it. Multiple listens in the car didn’t do it, and it was only when I fully surrendered to it, taking 40 minutes to just sit on a park bench and listen, that it finally revealed its secrets to me.

Once I did so I realized this was Cave’s (and Ellis’) best work in over a decade and well worth your time, should you have the courage and patience to explore its mysteries.

Best tracks: Hand of God, Carnage, White Elephant, Albuquerque, Lavender Fields, Shattered Ground

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