Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree

Score: 7/10 – Inside the darkest of caves.
Nick Cave has never been one to do ‘upbeat’, but with the accidental death of his 15-year-old son Arthur looming over the sixteenth studio album with his band The Bad Seeds, the darkness appears to be blacker than ever for Australia’s grand prince of it.
Most of the material for The Skeleton Tree – recorded over two years between France and Cave’s adopted home of Brighton, UK – was pretty much in the bag before the incident, but although a number of lyrics were rewritten in the wake of the tragedy, the album treats the subject of death as a largely ambiguous theme. The allegorical and often-improvised lyrics appear to be less narrative and character-based than on previous Bad Seeds’ albums, but that’s not to say certain parts of it don’t take on a new significance. The Skeleton Tree might not openly be about Arthur, but so much of it seems to embody Cave’s personal grief that it’s hard to separate from it.
Unsurprisingly, it’s no easy ride for either Cave – or indeed, the listener. The ominous rumble of “Jesus Alone” opens proceedings like high noon at the gates of the underworld – “with my voice, I am calling you” he repeats prophetically over minor piano chords and skeletal synthesizers. “Magneto” and “Anthrocene” sustain the tension with their sparse, downtempo arrangements and further heart-wrenching soundbites: “I knew the world it would stop spinning now/since you’ve been gone”. If there are any moments of light they are few and far between – even on an album that is only eight tracks long – but the delicate lyrical flourishes of Danish soprano Else Torp on “Distant Sky”, and the careworn acoustic lilt of the closing title track are both elements of hope on an album that otherwise lacks much to be cheerful about.
There’s no question that this has been a cathartic process for Cave – what better way to heal than share your grief with the world – but unless you are the kind of person who regards Johnny Cash’s reworking of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt as ‘a bit whimsical’, The Skeleton Key may prove too gloomy to bear.
Dan Ashcroft
Like this? Try these:
David Bowie
Interstellar darkness from dearly departed indie idol.
Mark Lanegan
Blues Funeral
Gravel-voiced curmudgeon delivers best album since
PJ Harvey
Uh Huh Her
Shades of dark and light,
courtesy of Cave bestie
Polly Jean.


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