The musician Anna Calvi got it absolutely right the other week when discussing Nick Cave. “His lyrics”, she said, “are always so beautiful, even when he’s singing about things that are quite violent”.

Calvi was discussing Let Love In, the album that Cave and his band, the Bad Seeds, released 30 years ago. Its tracks include Red Right Hand, which went on to become the theme song to the BBC drama series, Peaky Blinders.

“I love all of Nick Cave’s albums, but this was the first one that I got. It’s very powerful and confrontational, and it’s even a little ugly at times”, Calvi told Far Out Magazine. “This record got me into the Bad Seeds, and I became a very big fan of theirs, as well. Nick is brilliant”.

Cave’s standing as a lyricist of genuine power, whatever his subject matter, is also recognised by The National's Matt Berninger, himself an outstanding writer of song lyrics. In an interview with the Dublin-based Hot Press four years ago he said: “I really do think that there are better songwriters writing songs right now than ever. So many artists are doing their best writing right now. Like Nick Cave, and his last couple of records. For me, Nick Cave is the best songwriter alive. And I’m aware Bob Dylan is alive. Nick Cave has even gone past [Leonard] Cohen and Tom Waits for me – and that’s my trinity!”

The Herald: Anna CalviAnna Calvi (Image: free)

A potent reminder of Cave’s songwriting abilities will be provided this August, when Wild God, his latest album with his band the Bad Seeds, is released. It will be part of a remarkable late-career flourish that has seen his songs become, in his own words, more abstracted and less dominated by the kind of traditional, third-person narrative that made his name. As the music historian Peter Doggett remarked, the Gothic legends that Cave wrote in the Eighties were "filled ... with ghostly visions of souls haunted and cursed by fate and blood".

The new album, which will be out on August 30, will be followed by a tour that takes in Glasgow’s OVO Hydro on November 3. It will be Cave’s first concert in Scotland since he and his long-standing collaborator, the multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, visited the Edinburgh Playhouse in September 2021 as the duo took their album, Carnage, on the road. The show had a quite memorable setlist: Galleon Ship, Ghosteen, I Need You, Into My Arms, and Waiting for You, to say nothing of a cover of T. Rex’s Seventies hit, Cosmic Dancer.

In a statement Cave has said of Wild God: “I hope the album has the effect on listeners that it’s had on me. It bursts out of the speaker, and I get swept up with it. It’s a complicated record, but it’s also deeply and joyously infectious. There is never a masterplan when we make a record. The records rather reflect back the emotional state of the writers and musicians who played them. Listening to this, I don’t know, it seems we’re happy”.

The title track has already been streamed to an enthusiastic response from fans and critics. “Compared to the meditative space that drive Ghosteen [the most recent Bad Seeds album, 2019], Wild God is remarkably upbeat, organic and – with the climactic, chorus-backed outro – anthemically triumphant”, says the Consequence of Sound music site.

In a revealing recent message, however, on The Red Hand Files, the section on his website on which Cave replies to fans’ questions, he admits to some trepidation prior to its release. He had been moping around the house, which prompted his wife, Susie, to ask what the matter was. Nothing’s the matter, he responded. Susie persisted: Was he worried about the reaction to the new song? No, came the forceful reply: he didn't care what people say.

“And then”, he writes, “the song came out, and as the responses started to come in with such unrestrained and exuberant positivity, that sorry little cloud that had been following me around departed – and then I knew, because it struck me, like a great, warm, frothy, emotive wave, that I do care what people say, I care very much”.


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In the same thread he said of the album itself that it is a record “full of secrets. It is made up of a series of complex and interlinking narratives, the title song ‘Wild God’ being the primary point of propulsion, with the songs all feeding off each other – not so much to tell a story, but to rally round an acutely vulnerable and mysterious ‘event’ that resides at the heart of the album’s central song, ‘Conversion’.”

The lives of Cave and his wife changed forever in July 2015 when their 15-year-old son, Arthur, died in a fall from a cliff in Brighton. An inquest was told that he had taken the hallucinogen LSD.

Between August 2020 and the summer of 2021 Cave collaborated with the journalist Sean O’Hagan in what would eventually be a remarkable book, Faith, Hope and Carnage, which was assembled from more than 40 hours of frank, wide-ranging conversations between the two men. There are many revealing passages in the book, and Cave acknowledges, not for the first time, the impact that Arthur's death has had on his songwriting.

The book opens with a discussion of Ghosteen, the 2019 album he made with the Bad Seeds. The central image, he told O’Hagan, was in the opening track, Spinning Song: ‘You sitting at the kitchen table listening to the radio’. He went on: “This line is, of course, unremarkable as an image. But to me it is anything but ordinary, because it is the last memory I have of Susie before the phone rang with the news that our son had died. It is a commonplace image but for me it’s transcendent because it’s the last unbroken memory of my wife. Essentially, Ghosteen arises out of that moment of peace, of calm, of simplicity, before everything shattered. It’s quite hard to explain but I think that come close to it”.

Ghosteen, the music and the lyrics, he added, “is an invented place where the spirit of Arthur can find some kind of haven or rest”. His son “was snatched away, he just disappeared, and this felt like some way of making contact again and saying goodbye”.

The third song, Waiting for You, originally had what Cave describes as a “very loud, super-aggressive, industrial loop that played completely out of time” throughout. On the advice of the Coldplay singer Chris Martin, in whose Malibu studio the recording was being made, Cave and Ellis abandoned the industrial sound; what was left, Cave tells O’Hagan, is a “very beautiful, vulnerable song shimmering there on its own”.

The Herald: Warren EllisWarren Ellis (Image: free)

Ghosteen is at times an unbearably poignant album, and starkly beautiful. Overall, as the Guardian critic Alexis Petridis wrote, “The result is perhaps the most straightforwardly beautiful set of songs that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have ever recorded, which fits with the album’s lyrical themes”. In the New Yorker a year ago, Amanda Petrusich described it as “a singular and profound meditation on loss and the afterlife. I have never heard anything like it”.

And now, in five months’ time or so, we’ll have the fruits of the latest collaboration between Cave and the Bad Seeds. The live gigs should be fascinating, too: Cave is a mesmerising performer on stage. As he tells O’Hagan: “I have to say, being on stage, performing to a crowd, and being swept up by the wanton power of the music, of the performance itself, of the audience’s own frenzy is something else.

“To think you can climb to the top of a f——— lighting rig and flail around, or crawl around the stage on your belly like a snake, walk across the hands of the crowd - it’s a kind of beautiful madness, a beautiful, dangerous madness …”