No one has aged more in the 2010s than Nick Cave. At the start of the decade, Cave had rediscovered high-energy post-punk with his Grinderman side project; his goth rock classic “Red Right Hand” was resonating with a new audience as the theme song for Peaky Blinders; and he’d written the screenplay for the Tom Hardy/Shia LaBeouf drama Lawless, which competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Then in 2015, Cave’s teenage son fell from a cliff and died. Rather than do press for his 2016 LP Skeleton Tree, Cave agreed to participate in a documentary, One More Time with Feeling, which shows his family’s grief in agonizing detail. In 2018, longtime Bad Seeds pianist Conway Savage succumbed to cancer. And this year, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ 17th studio album, Ghosteen, was released. It’s a thoroughly somber plunge into trauma and the impotence of loss – beautiful, but devastating.
Even a listener who’s not familiar with Nick Cave’s personal tragedies will recognize a major stylistic shift in his lyrics between his 2013 album Push the Sky Away and Skeleton Tree. The former looks outward at the sorts of local characters and stories that have long been Cave’s trademark, while the latter turns sharply inward and uses stream of consciousness to depict emotional ephemera. It’s hard to guess where Cave will go after Ghosteen, but a return to more narrative song structures feels unlikely.
If that is the case, “Jubilee Street” may represent the final version of Nick Cave in classic storyteller mode. Cave’s Jubilee Street is a red light district that’s been taken over by Russians, and a former madame has turned to shaking down our narrator (“The problem was she had a little black book / And my name was written on every page”). The song builds slowly over a repetitive, four-chord progression, eventually swelling into the sort of high gothic drama no one can sell like The Bad Seeds.
I’m a fan of both Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen, and a selection from either would better represent Nick Cave’s artistic journey in this decade. But as much as it now feels like it’s from another era, “Jubilee Street” is just too good to ignore.