Album Review: Nick Cave – Seven Psalms

Nick Cave speaks his heart and soul across a beautiful written set of prayers for the faithless

If anyone besides Nick Cave released an entire album of spoken word prayers, no one would take much notice. Thankfully, Seven Psalms is a long way from Cliff Richard – and while the short, deeply reflective poems are the closest Cave has ever come to pure faith, he’s unlikely to be invited on Songs Of Praise anytime soon. 

Religion has always haunted Cave’s music – sometimes embraced, sometimes railed against, always questioned – most of his best work has engaged with Christianity in the most complex way possible. Back in 1997, religion gave ‘Into My Arms’ one of the best love lyrics of all time (“I don’t believe in an interventionist God, But I know, darling, that you do, But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him, Not to intervene when it came to you”) and 25 years later the concept of divine intervention frames some of his most beautiful and painful work to date.


In 2015, Cave’s son Arthur tragically fell to his death in Brighton – an incident that darkened and deepened the sadness of all Cave’s music since. This year, Cave lost another son – with Jethro losing his life in a Melbourne motel. As Seven Psalms moves slowly through yearning, self-loathing, sorrow and surrender, it’s impossible not to hear the poems spoken here as elegies – an attempt to find spiritual meaning in words and thoughts read aloud. 

Anyone expecting another Bad Seeds album should look elsewhere, as Seven Psalms is exactly what it says it is – seven religious poems presented as spoken word, the whole thing no longer than 12 minutes long. There is backing music from Warren Ellis (all of it isolated on an eighth bonus track, which runs another 12 minutes) but it’s ambient – a gentle synth swell, a softly stroked piano key, a distant choral – there to give Cave’s words a textural space to land in.

‘How Long Have I Waited’ opens the service with an emptiness covered by a desperate need for faith (“When will I awaken to your love, a sleeping love, as the day breaks like waves upon the shore?… Lord I cannot wait a single moment more”), before ‘Have Mercy On Me’ takes Cave to the most aggressively dark place he’s inhabited since Murder Ballads

“I have eaten the children and rained fire upon the old, dashed the new-born dead upon the rocks” he speaks, still as calmly as if he’s standing at a church lectern. “A cloud of carnage everywhere I roam”. As the wordplay nods to the name of his last album, it’s clear just how much of an unlikely companion piece to Carnage this new record really is – where ‘Hand Of God’ and ‘White Elephant’ turned biblical rage into post-punk blues, ‘I Have Trembled My Way Deep’ and ‘Splendour, Glorious Splendour’ comes out the other side of surrender. 

Standout poem ‘I Have Wandered All My Unending Days’ is the closest Seven Psalms gets to conventional rhythm (sounding like an old delta blues song turned back into a prayer), but the heart-wrenching ‘Such Things Should Never Happen’ reminds us again why this album needed to be stripped of sound in the first place. Impossible to hear without thinking again about Cave’s personal tragedy, the track stands as an anti-funeral prayer for a frighteningly empty church. 

“Such things should never happen but they do, besides a little box a mother cries, the swallow seeks to build its nest anew, the oak tree lifts its branches to its eyes”. Unseen, unheard, and unloved, Cave’s final resolution in ‘I Come Alone And To You’ turns back to God in the absence of anything else. 

“Deep calls to deep, I have nowhere left to go, but to you Lord, breathless, but to you”. As a companion piece to Carnage, and as an appendix to Cave’s extraordinary back catalogue, Seven Psalms arrives here as something almost too fragile, too rare, and too personal to hear. For anyone who listens though, it’s almost impossible not to feel moved to wrath and grace and everything in between. 

Seven Psalms is out on Friday 24 June. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds are playing London’s All Point’s East festival on August 28, with tickets available here.