Cave + Ellis surprise fans with a glorious new album
Vicky Greer
13:00 25th February 2021

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Finally, a nice surprise in 2021. Today, Nick Cave released surprise album Carnage in collaboration with Bad Seed Warren Ellis. The project was first teased in January on Cave’s personal Q&A blog Red Hand Files, but no information was given except that it was “a brutal but very beautiful record embedded in a communal catastrophe”. Today, Cave and Ellis surprised fans with the unexpected release. 

Opening number Hand of God' is as sudden and urgent as the album drop itself, if not more so. There is a strangely intriguing mix of pulsing electronic beats and classical strings that gets CARNAGE off to a jarring and surprising start. The song changes its mind a number of times in the first minute and stays volatile until the end. It represents the more eclectic side, contrasting the softer and more generally accessible sounds of later tracks 'Albuquerque' and 'Lavender Fields'. Such a brutal and unpredictable opening is exactly what Cave meant in the few details he gave away about CARNAGE.

After the initial shock of 'Hand of God', there are some more classically Cave and Ellis musical masterpieces. 'Old Time' is one of the true treasures of CARNAGE, with its bass-heavy southern gothic feel and characteristically dark lyrics. Nick Cave is one of the best songwriters out there, and this unsettling track reinforces his position of power. The beginning of CARNAGE is particularly intense, with the distorted, echoing strings of 'Old Time' resting at the heart of this intensity.

'White Elephant' is a showstopper and yet another surprise. Nick Cave typically avoids overtly social and political topics in his music, so a verse directly referencing the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK was an unexpected addition to CARNAGE. “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” comes directly from the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol last year. The rest of the song is less overt in its themes but remains rich in the imagery that fuels the album. Then, when you least expect it, 'White Elephant' becomes a hymn. It carries on the album’s intensity in a new and musically intricate way.

CARNAGE takes a brief intermission from its heaviness with the softer, more accessible 'Albuquerque' and 'Lavender Fields'. The latter in particular is a message of hope amongst the brutality of the album, musically simple but beautiful layered to perfection. Cave writes deeply personal songs, and yet this album is more outwardly relatable than ever before. As usual, he excels in writing these hymn-like pieces.

We end on the positive, if less full-on notes of 'Shattered Ground' and 'Balcony Man'. The cinematic intro to the former is reminiscent of The Cure’s 'Plainsong', only with more improvisational recording methods. Cave and Ellis have said that this track was a first-take success, and it’s one of the more personal songs on a generally less introspective record. The finale, 'Balcony Man', is no musical standout, though its lyrics are a triumphant end to a resoundingly successful album. Repetitions of “This morning is amazing and so are you” and the final wisdom of “What doesn’t kill you just makes you crazier” proves Nick Cave’s endless ability to keep you hooked until the very end.

CARNAGE is a step away from the narrative-heavy albums we’ve heard before like Murder Ballads; generally closer to the imagery and metaphor-rich lyrics of Ghosteen, but it also has its own particular charm. To release a surprise album, you must have something pretty spectacular – we expect nothing less from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. As usual, these powerhouse musicians have pulled it off and created magic.

CARNAGE is out now. 

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Photo: Press