ALBUM REVIEW: Nick Cave & the Band Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds latest album Skeleton Tree is just as hauntingly poignant and evocative as one would expect from someone who suffered such a tragic loss last year. The album is the band’s sixteenth release, and despite singing about similar themes for the last couple of decades, this album is their most numb, subdued and hollowed-out feature to date. Dealing with the fragility of life and intense grief, Cave is at his most vulnerable and visceral, as the Bad Seeds take a backseat to his vocals.

Skeleton Tree comes a year and a bit after Nick Cave’s teenage son Arthur tragically fell to his death. Despite the fact that the album was already almost complete prior to the heart-breaking accident, several of the songs were rewritten as Cave sought to express his bereavement through song. The idea of death and loss are wholly present in Skeleton Tree, as Cave’s resigned tone croons about mortality and tragedy. As expected by fans and critics aware of what befell Cave last year, the album features allegorical references to Arthur’s death, without being explicit about it. The opening line of the first song “Jesus Alone”, starts off with “You fell from the sky, crash-landed in a field near the river Adur”, a haunting opening that is matched by the synthesiser setting the dark mood. The whole album is cloaked in an ethereal sound, as Cave stumbles around trying to make sense of it all. “Rings of Saturn” sounds like a tribute to a ‘80s song, that gets better with every listen. “Girl in Amber” emphasises the idea of disorientation, fragility and the cycle of loss as Cave balefully addresses what has so unimaginably struck him.

The second half of the album is where the band really demonstrates their ability to carefully balance sadness with melody. Each song is infected by the presence of death, as Cave dwells on loss with lines such as “nothing really matters when the one you love is gone” in the song “I Need You”, emphasising Cave’s exhaustion and how he has been affected. The song is an incredible tribute to loss, and serves as a comfort for anyone dealing with pain or hardship. “Distant Sky” is more hopeful than its predecessor, as Cave and Danish soprano Else Torp cautiously sing about watching the sun rise again, and hint at the idea of redemption, a much-needed follow on from the sombre “I Need You”. The final track, “Skeleton Tree” echoes the themes of the opening track, as Cave calls out to God to no avail, finally finding some peace in the idea that “it’s all right now”.

The band’s previous albums have always been preoccupied with the notion of mortality, religion and the meaning of life, yet Skeleton Tree features raw emotion and authority on a subject no parent should ever experience. Skeleton Tree avoids becoming a ballad of sadness, choosing instead to focus on the consequences of loss, rather than the cause. The album is eerie, emotional and ominous, achieved through the use of synthesisers and loops that become the background to Cave’s resigned and strung-out tone. The album is stripped bare and minimalistic, focusing on the most important aspects, whilst allowing Cave to sing as he sings best.

9/10

 

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