Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Album Review :: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Skeleton Tree

September 9 2016 (Bad Seed Ltd) 


Words: Richard O’Hagan

At the time that Nick Cave was beginning work on this album and the film that it accompanies, One More Time With Feeling, his 15-year-old son Arthur tragically died in a cliff fall in Brighton.

Inevitably, the upshot is a record (his 16th studio album, in fact) which is infused with Cave’s pain and sense of loss. Actually, infused is too light a word: drenched would almost be more appropriate; from the opening line of the record, as Cave gets straight to the point on ‘Jesus Alone’: "You fell from the sky /crash landed in a field / near the River Adur".  

The theme continues throughout the following seven tracks, if less obviously so. At times, such as on ‘Rings of Saturn’ and the title track, he  even threatens to get a little…well, if not upbeat, then at least as upbeat as Cave ever gets. None of that, however, makes it any less of a gruelling listen, especially if you happen to have children of your own. All of the familiar Bad Seeds themes are here – death, God, the devil – but they all somehow seem more real.

Current single ‘I Need You’ is particularly hard going: six minutes of darkest angst. ‘Girl In Amber’ has a theme of someone being frozen in time and yet also lost, the line "I knew the world it would stop spinning now / since you’ve been gone" striking out of the mix like a dagger to the soul. You really don’t want to listen to this on a dark night on your own.

Remarkably, none of those are the most affecting moments on this album. These come during Cave’s duet with Danish opera singer Else Torp on ‘Distant Sky’. It takes a lot to touch the heart of this jaundiced reviewer, but the refrain of "They told us our gods would outlive us / But they lied" is hard to beat, whilst the addition of the female counterpoint just makes Cave’s death-rattle voice sound all the darker.

‘Skeleton Key’ is far from an easy record to listen to, but then good music doesn’t always have to be easy. It isn’t Cave’s greatest work by a long way, but it was never intended to be. All we can hope is that he found it cathartic to make it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hug my son a little closer than before.

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