Nick Cave and Warren Ellis team up for their latest release Carnage. Both Cave and Ellis have created iconic music individually and together as members of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. To me, Cave resembles the esoteric genius of Sherlock Holmes, while Ellis often looks like a madman who lives in a cave, only surfacing to create musical brilliance. They are a bit of an odd couple, but they make some of the most impactful music I have ever heard. Therefore, I was like a five year old at Disney on Ice when I read that they were releasing a new record.
The album Carnage hits that sweet spot between an EP and a LP. At eight songs it is a bit more than your standard EP, but not close to Taylor Swift’s epic 16 track opus folklore. Carnage doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, but is long enough to develop some rich themes. The record itself is a mix of beautiful descriptions of an apocalyptic wasteland, which are defeated by equally beautiful messages of hope. If there was ever a COVID record, this is it. Cave explores human connection, isolation, God, blood and love all against a rich musical background haze.
The title track Carnage perfectly encapsulates what this record is trying to say. Exploring themes of love, connection and spirituality is not new for Cave. He put this to wonderful effect on his live record Idiot Prayer , which I thought was a top five record of 2020. He begins the track recounting a childhood memory of his uncle cutting the head off a chicken, while blood shoots out of its body like a fountain. Cave follows up this beautiful description of death with a reference to reading Flannery O’Conner, who is known for depictions of violence, marginalised people and the grotesque. So, we are given this picture of death, violence, disconnection and dread…not the most uplifting start to a track.
Ellis underpins this early dread with a minimalist electronic dirge. The early bit of the track doesn’t really move musically as Ellis plays a hypnotic syth only periodically punctuated by a muffled percussion and a simple guitar riff. This sparse musical landscape reinforces Cave’s apocalyptic description of death, blood and isolation.
However, at the three minute mark the musical landscape changes as Ellis brings in warm strings and chymes as Cave begins to sing about his love of a woman and sun breaking through the rain. Cave continues to sing about how love will break through the rain, which acts as a lifeline to save the listener from the depths of despair. The track starts with Cave singing about how he “always seems to be saying goodbye,” but ends with him embracing love through the rain. Similar to Idiot Prayer, human connection and love will ultimately protect us through periods of isolation and death.
For how much Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are seen as noir artists whose creative energy is inscrutable, both are fairly romantic. Themes of love and human connection as gateways to salvation are themes that run throughout Cave’s music. In Carnage, he and Ellis give voice to feelings of isolation and disconnection people feel within the lockdowns and death all around us in the year plus of COVID. Even though the rain in Carnage resembles COVID in how it is never ending, there is hope bursting through. Cave and Ellis are able to find the love that will carry us through suffering. I love how Cave can portray his romantic side so earnestly, honestly and beautifully. Carnage is Cave and Ellis at their peak and it’s a must listen.
Listen to Carnage