Such past releases as 1996’s ‘Murder Ballads’ and 1997’s ‘The Boatman’s Call’ along with side projects, former bands and film scores have cemented his legacy, however this record is far more important than that and perhaps more so than any album Cave has put to production so far. Tragically last July Nick Cave and wife Susie Bick, along with their family, suffered the tragic loss of son Arthur Cave. The ordeal was well documented publicly however this album is Cave’s own commentary and is unrelenting in its raw honesty and emotionality, something for which the artist is to be commended.
Returning more heavily here to his most familiar instrument, the piano, ‘Skeleton Tree’ falls in with past albums such as ‘No More Shall We Part’ and ‘Nocturama’ but with a soul bearing intensity to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. First track and single ‘Jesus Alone’ opens “you fell from the sky and crash landed in a field near the river adur” an absolutely heart stopping line with which Cave announces this subject matter will not shy away from the trauma he and his loved ones have suffered. This line was however, shockingly written previous to the event that so neatly aligns itself, Cave’s decision to leave it and others in however is as important as if he had written them posthumously. Furthermore ‘Jesus Alone’ offers a beautifully articulated sentiment, finding comfort not in a neat, post card sized idiom but in the uncertainty of life and of consciousness. Other achingly heartfelt lyrics can be found in “You believe in god but you get no special dispensation for this belief now” and the chorus’ repeating “with my voice, I am calling you” both chilling and loving in equal measure.
It is clear that Cave does not wish to be a figure of pity as he welcomes the hordes of strangers who care for him here, explaining his innermost turmoil and tragedy presumably so no one can probe him any further. This album and the film ‘One More Time With Feeling’ that accompanied it puts Nick Cave in control of the public fanfare, and he has chosen to be very generous.
The record features sparse arrangements similar to those on 2013’s ‘Push The Sky Away’ which makes sense given that the majority of the work for this album had been undertaken before the tragic events of last July. In light of which such beautiful songs such as ‘Distant Sky’ duet with Else Torpe give way to moments of soaring grace but are inescapably heartbreaking. Cave’s slowly diminishing figure and voice (something of which he remarks on himself in Andrew Domink‘s gripping film) add something here, the rawness of it all is sombre yet electrifying, it allows a very brief glimpse of personal loss and grief. ‘Skeleton Tree’ is very purposefully un glossed, every track and every crack of Cave’s voice is to be heard as it was initially created, an emotional snapshot of a moment in his life that Cave himself may wish to re-visit in years to come.
Despite being yet again focussed on the piano ballad ‘Skeleton Tree’ appears to have been given a very light ‘Kid A’ treatment, perhaps even with slight influence of Trent Reznor. Of course this is not wholly unfamiliar territory for Nick Cave and his ever faithful Bad Seeds as we have heard a similar techno whir on 2008’s ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!’ and a little with side project Grinderman. It does however feel a nice touch here, pulling the whole thing out of the more aimless area of self pity and into sombre reflection and fittingly masterful work of art, most notably on tracks ‘Anthrocene’ and ‘Magneto’. Of course we already know this album and even the film were intended and incepted before the tragic and saddening occurrence of last year, perhaps its coincidence but for whatever reason it fits together so very well.
The continuation and release of ‘Skeleton Tree’ was a very brave thing to do, it was bold and courageous but you can’t help but feel Nick Cave himself wouldn’t see it that way, to him this is an act of respect, a gift to the memory of his beloved son Arthur Cave, who’s loss has been felt so irrefutably by so many through the beauty and majesty of this fitting collection of songs.
This Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds article was written by Jacob Atkins, a GIGsoup contributor