9 September 2016
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
People work through grief in different ways; some people lock themselves away and mourn in private, some people do great declarations of love and loss on Facebook and other things, some raise money for charities and other things, some create art - Nick Cave has created an album, this was completed after the loss of his son Arthur Cave (I am not going to go into details, you will be able to find out details on other sites). The sessions started in 2014 and finished after that tragic event, so there is no way of know how much was completed beforehand and how much was changed. But it casts a shadow over this album, with a man who uses symbolism so much on his records, people are always going to read so much into every word, every note and every pause that it will be impossible to distinguish what is directly connected and what is about something else. But I cannot avoid listening to this any further, let us see how the album sounds......
"Jesus Alone" opens the album with a sound of feedback, looping noise and a tale about someone (maybe Jesus) crashing to the ground near the river Adur which is on the east of Brighton, it has many other stories in the mix; a man harvesting tear ducts in Africa, a lady, a young man covered in blood that is not his, sitting and awaiting a moment to come - all of these can be seen as symbolic or as stories in their own rights. The lines are blurring from the beginning and the pain is showing from this opening moment, it was difficult to listen to when it was released a few days before the release, it is even harder when reviewing as it is on loop and there is no escape from it. It is high notes and a sombre piece of music from the Bad Seeds, they know when to make their presence felt and when to withdrawal to the background. It is not easy on the ears and it is a primal, low burning, painful song.
"Rings of Saturn" is next, this one is a charming little number, similar in style to "Wide Lovely Eyes" from 'Push The Sky Away', it gentle in delivery as the vocal delivery seems to be given with a certain amount of distraction. There is still a grey cast to the lyrics, it is not a sunshine song by any standard; but the keyboard work on this song is playful and supportive. Mr Cave though, you can hear something is missing from the voice and whilst it is still a fine performance, there is a grief in his voice that gives it a subdue tone.
"Girl In Amber" - wow, I mean wow - this is the moment were everything get dark and then even those few safety lights are blown out without any warning. This song is like looking into the abyss and hearing it call back to you, answering your grief and offering support. This feels like the darker version of "Push The Sky Away", it shares a similar vocal delivery, but on this one the voice is croaking, there is a hoarse and rasping quality to the vocals and it is here where the heartache is on display. The phone is no longer ringing, the song is spinning and there is a plea not to be touched; I cannot listen to this minimal piece of genius without weeping, so painful and so beautiful in equal measure.
"Magneto" is another minimal piece, the occasional bass note that pulses, guitars strumming slowly and violins droning. Lyrically, there is a lot of anger on this one - talking about the urge to kill people in the supermarket, never really knowing what is happening and the love is mixed with laughter and a feeling of disorientation. Even though I have only heard this song for the first time today, it feels like an oddity on this album. It is one that I am sure I will return to and see in a different light, but at the moment it is just a bit too painful.
"Anthrocene" starts with a sample of a drum pattern that quickly moves and this song is an avant-garde number that is both minimal, spacious and frantic in equal measure. The bass is rumbling, there are electronic effects that sound like bees at time, the vocals have a bite to them and then the piano is slow, the guitars are slow and when the choir comes it, it is very slow and sombre once again. It is a contradiction in music, a strange beast and one that fascinates me and acts as a piece of gentle relief to be honest; only slightly, but enough for a small moment.
"I Need You" is a song about the need for a lover to be back in your life, it is a song about the requirement for connection and the regret and pain are there to be seen. It is still dealing with lose, there is a plea for someone to breathe again and the symbolic nature of the artist means we are all reading into this song once more, either way you look at it - it is a beautifully fragile number.
"Distant Sky" features Danish Soprano Else Trop and this song is about escaping and running away. Trying to get away from all the issues and finding that they are still in front of you when you stand moving. There is a passage about gods and dreams outliving people & that these words were lies, these words are the most direct message about the loss of Arthur Cave; once again I am crying as I type as the vocals are breaking my heart and the lines are beautiful, yet hard to hear.
"Skeleton Tree" with a reflective tone, there is still grief and loss within the lyrics as nothing is free and even when you call for help there is sometimes no reply, but there is hope at the end as the words 'It is alright now' are repeated to a fade. The music is still sombre and fragile, but there are light percussions in the mix this time and it feels as if the sun has risen a little. I like this one a lot, it is still a painful song, but it is another beautiful number to end this album.
How do you mark this? For a man who uses symbolism and word play so much, this is an album that you can read so much into and we may never know how much was written before the sad passing of Arthur Cave, but the album will forever be associated with that sad event. The confident swagger of previous albums has been replaced on this one with the sound of grief and a certain level of restraint on the vocals, which is reflected in the minimal music that accompanies the words. This is a man performing with everything on show, it is there in the words, the performance and the delicate vocals that will break your heart. It does not matter when this was recorded, who the stories might have originally been about or when the songs were originally conceived - this is an album created dolore. He is not known for keeping things hidden, but this is an eye opening album that only certain people will understand and once you understand, you do not have to share why because others will know. I have cried at each of these tracks and it does not get easier, I can only imagine what it must be like for Nick Cave, his wife, his family & The Bad Seeds. I do not see this as a grand declaration of pain and loss, just a man trying to process what has happened in the only way he knows possible. To sum up, heart breaking and beautiful, I have changed our marking system for this one out of respect for the subject matter.
10 out of ten - Heart breaking and beautiful.
Top track - Girl in Amber
You can purchase Skeleton Key from Amazon here.
You can visit the Nick Cave website here.
You can follow the activities of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds on Facebook here.
You can stream Skeleton Tree on Spotify here.
You can stream Skeleton Tree on Deezer here.
You can stream Skeleton Tree on Tidal here.
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