The Critic Almost Ran Out of Praise

ghosteen

Artwork for Ghosteen by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Photograph: Ghosteen Ltd.

Here’s a review of Nick Cave’s album “Ghosteen” that has a left-handed conclusion.

On one level, it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s as good as it is: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have been in a career-high purple patch since the last double album they released, 2004’s Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. Nevertheless, listening to Ghosteen, it’s very hard indeed not to be taken aback.

(Alexis Petridis, “Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — the most beautiful songs he has ever recorded,” theguardian.com, 10-3-19)

After glowing, the prose skids for a moment before the verdict lands — ambiguously positive, oddly reticent, concessive more than celebratory: The reviewer is hard put not to be taken aback by, or at, his very surprise over the unsurprising goodness of a band that has been surprisingly good all along.

(c) 2019 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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5 Responses to The Critic Almost Ran Out of Praise

  1. Someone who does his damnedness not to be moved

    • JMN says:

      Yes! I like how you put it. It’s a slightly grudging approval couched in a construction that almost challenges the reader to misunderstand. We’re rarely “taken aback” by things we admire or by states of happy wonderment. The essay ends more with a whimper than a bang. Tangentially, I’ll add that this article introduced me to the expression “purple patch,” which context indicates is a something like a string of successes or state of enjoying continuous happy outcomes. Always something new to enjoy in The Guardian.

      • ‘Purple patch’ is a good expression. My medieval history tutor used to use it. (He was a tutor of medieval history, rather than being a very old history tutor!)

      • JMN says:

        I’m sorry to learn that your tutor was not medieval himself. It would have been a startling revelation. Purple was the “royal” color in medieval times, wasn’t it? It happens to be one of my favorite colors. The only “purple” expression I knew of before this was “purple prose,” describing style that’s exaggerated or overwrought in some way. I avoid that sort of writing myself, favoring understatement over exoticism. Hyperbole breeds itself.

      • Now I’m wondering whether Professor Luscombe said “Purple passage” for a particular good paragraph. You will be happy to know I was also taught by a King Edmund

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