Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have been working together for years as members of The Bad Seeds, Grinderman and in the composition of soundtracks such as “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”, “Lawless” and “The Road” to name but a few. Aside from the aforementioned film music, Carnage marks their first full length album as a duo. As a brief history lesson, outside of their working relationship Nick Cave was a member of Post-Punk legends The Birthday Party, who were an enormous influence on the American 80’s Noise-Rock scene with the likes of The Jesus Lizard, Swans and The U-Men. Warren Ellis meanwhile plays in the well respected Instrumental trio The Dirty Three whose album Ocean Songs was listed in the book 100 Best Australian Albums.
The promo notes state that Carnage was initially written during early lockdown during which time Nick spent “reading, compulsively writing and just sitting on my balcony thinking about things”. The album cover is comprised merely of the title all in caps, implying a potentially more straight forward, spontaneous and direct album, all of which seems apt when we learn it “emerged almost by accident out of the downtime created by the long, anxious, global emergency”. If there is one positive to Covid it is the sheer amount of music being created.
This leads us to the music for which there are some rather tasty moments to be had. “Old Time” for one is an amazing mix of Suicide style moody Electronica and Free Jazz Sax freakouts. The lyrics speak of a fever dream from which Nick appears desperate to escape from. “White Elephant” references the George Floyd incident and the subsequent protests last year. The track starts off relatively sombre as you’d expect considering the aforementioned subject matter, but soon erupts unexpectedly with a positive, uplifting gospel style flourish implying there may still be light at the end of the tunnel, providing the album with its first shades of light hitherto unheard. The final standout is “Albuquerque”, the type of piano laden evocative romantic balladry Cave has been known for ever since The Bad Seeds’ inception and which undoubtedly tips its hat to the late Leonard Cohen.
The promotional notes describe the overall feel of Carnage as more restless and outward looking than Ghosteen (possibly even Skeleton Tree) and there is some truth to this. Both of those albums were inevitably tinged with sadness following the tragic demise of Mr Cave’s son Arthur. Anyone would have retreated into themselves following such an awful event and ultimately Nick chose to channel his pain into music as is common for a lot of artists following such a traumatic event.
Carnage also sees Nick at his most political and reflective and taking into account the chaotic nature of world events from over the past year, this is brilliantly conveyed. An angry, defiant and re-energized effort by one of Rock’s most intriguing artists.