“Carnage” Album Review


Amin Shah, Music Editor

Released on February 25th of this year, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis released one of the greatest albums of the year that has gone vastly overlooked by many music listeners, as Nick Cave isn’t exactly mainstream. I am hoping this review will bring upon more Nick Cave listeners within the community, as rock isn’t thriving as much as it was years ago, especially adult contemporary rock. The beautifully produced album needs far more recognition than what it is currently receiving.

The album itself is not too long (as most Nick Cave albums), as it is only around 40 minutes in length. This is also the first duo album between Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (a former bandmate of Cave’s in his old band called “The Bad Seeds”) that isn’t a soundtrack for a film. In contrast to Nick’s most notable albums, much like his recent albums, this is a very minimalist approach in terms of musicality and plot derivatives, as there is no formal plot (although it is not officially a concept album, justice is not done unless listened in it’s formal order) and the string arrangements strongly suit his strong, raspy vocals, but nothing too complex is happening with the instruments. The lyricism is very closely associated with bodies of literature such as the works of Edgar Allan Poe, as this album continues speaking of tragedy and loss (much like his previous albums).

Beginning with the ominous song “Hand of God”, a dark tone is really set for the album, as it is devoid of any type of hope. The lyrics match this theme, as many of the people talked about in the song are submitting to the “hand of god”, as all of the people are keeping their heads “way down low”, which can be a metaphor for how many allow the belief of a higher power to guide their life instead of guiding themselves. The choir also adds to the eeriness of the song. It is a strong opener overall. “Old Time” is also an extremely sorrowful song, as it speaks from the point of view of an older individual (presumably Nick Cave) reminiscing about the olden days. He contrasts his modern life with the old dreams, old romance, and happy imagery he had before but now is missing from his life. A woman (presumably a romantic partner of some kind) is also spoken of, as the narrator ends with “I’m not that far behind”, which most likely can be a metaphor for the narrator reaching the end of his life, allowing the listener to assume that the romantic partner has passed away. The title track “Carnage” continues the somber instrumentals from the past two tracks, offering a soft beating drum and a soft guitar. As the several past tracks have been, the lyrics have been descriptive yet minimal. This song specifically speaks more about death and loss, relating to author Flannery O’ Connor (an author who writes about brutality). “White Elephant”, my favorite track on the album, continues this doom-y sound, but the second half of the song is a very vast change in tone. The song begins with a very rough and menacing bass and string arrangement with very harsh vocals about shooting an elephant, which may be a poacher’s point of view (but this seems like a stretch). As the song grows to its climax, a waning guitar starts to almost “scream”, offering for a very tense sound. The tone then immediately changes as the chorus hits, as the song becomes reminiscent to something like “Hey Jude” by The Beatles or “Oh Sweet Nuthin” by the Velvet Underground. The lyrics of the chorus display an almost “accepting” view of death and to not question other possibilities besides entering heaven, concluding the first half of this album.

The first track of the second half “Albuquerque” has a vastly different tone from the previous four tracks, as it isn’t as depressing or somber. The string arrangements are beautifully orchestrated and give off a positive feeling. The overall mood is just a beautiful feeling. The song only has two verses, but they contrast a bit from the sound, as they may seem a little down as the narrator sings about not being able to make it anywhere, which may be a reference to the Covid-19 pandemic. The next track “Lavender Fields” is slightly more somber, but it is still a stark contrast to the initial tracks. The lyrics are very general and can be interpreted in several different ways, but Cave seems to be singing about how people seemed to move away from him, possibly to pursue their careers as he states “Once I was busy with my friends, all of them grew busy with their pens”. He then continues to talk about the “kingdom in the sky”, continuing the theme of death and loss (some speculate that this song may also be about his deceased son). “Shattered Ground” is a very depressing song, but again has more vibrant orchestral arrangements. Nick essentially sings a hymn of love for his wife Susie, but also speaks about how his life will essentially come “crashing down” once she is gone. The album ends with the track “Balcony Man”, which leaves Nick questioning the rest of his life and the things he appreciates, like his wife. He is left appreciating the current moment before the storm of life swoops down and carries his wife away, leaving him with nothing, allowing this to be an almost bittersweet ending to this amazing album.

This album was a beautiful experience that had me really thinking about my life whilst listening to the beautifully orchestrated arrangements throughout along with the raspy and old vocals offered by Nick Cave. The fact that he is putting out consistently good music this far after his prime is really just amazing, as this rivals some of his greatest works in my opinion. The tone of the album and how it evolves along with the mindset and literature influenced lyrics of Nick Cave really allows for a great allegory on the darker tones of life and how we should truly appreciate what we have before it is gone. This might truly be my favorite album this year, as not even Donda had these lyrical themes and concepts, and along with the arrangements, it really is a close competitor. I give this album a strong 9/10, and until further notice, it is my album of the year so far.