Review Summary: “Let us sit together in the dark until the moment comes…”
Nick Cave is an artist in every sense of the word, having contributed notable talents to the fields of music, screenwriting, literature, and acting. His musical outputs explored endless genres, and collaborated with fellow Bad Seed Warren Ellis for a number of soundtracks for major films. Despite an illustrious career spanning decades and enjoying notable recognition, he’s never quite received the respect of artists like Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits. Nick Cave’s almost cult status is at least partially due to the more emotionally harrowing and intense themes he isn’t afraid to explore. This is true even at his most commercially successful moments, notably the MTV music video duet with Kylie Minogue, “Where The Roses Grow,” a gentle love ballad with lyrics about bashing a lover’s head in with a rock. Certainly a different sort of singer-songwriter, Cave’s eclectic legacy is one that has never faltered. It has now resulted in his latest release, Skeleton Tree
, with heart-wrenching lyrics and the band’s always stirring musical qualities with an unbearably tragic real life backdrop.
indeed lives up to its name, being a bleak, dreary listen with only small glimmers of hope to be found. Running at just under forty minutes in length, there’s not much room for joy here. Cave’s loss of his youngest son is even addressed head on in the beginning lines of the album. The morose “Jesus Alone” provides the first sign of Cave in mourning, as he laments with, “You fell from the sky, crash landed in a field near the river Adur. Flowers spring from the ground, lambs burst from the wombs of their mothers. In a hole beneath the bridge she convalesce, she fashioned masks of clay and twigs. You cried beneath the dripping trees, ghost song lodged in the throat of a mermaid
.” These ruminations are the most direct that we will get on the matter. Cave specifically chose to release a feature film, One More Time With Feeling, to replace any press he would normally do about the album’s creative process. Talking publicly about his loss would be too unbearable for him, but Skeleton Tree
provides an opportunity to sit together with us and pour his heart out. As previously mentioned, Nick Cave has always had a penchant for exploring emotionally harrowing topics, but never quite like this. Skeleton Tree
is a captivating, heart-rending meditation from a true artist coming to terms with the most horrific tragedy a person can experience. In the hands of Nick Cave, it comes out as truly cathartic in a manner no one else could achieve.
Despite the companion film most likely shedding more light onto the meaning of Skeleton Tree
, statements from Cave revealed that the album itself illuminates the real insight into his stormy, eclectic mind. “Her body, moon blue, was a jellyfish, and I'm breathing deep, and I'm there and I'm also not there. Spurting ink over the sheets but she remains, completely unexplained, or maybe I'm just too tongue-tied to drink it up and swallow back the pain. I thought slavery had been abolished. How come it's gone and reared its ugly head again?
” Among the publicly known tragedy Cave has suffered, many tracks in Skeleton Tree
paint bizarre, beautiful pictures of lost loves in much the same way as Push The Sky Away
did. His always brilliant lyrics are accompanied by airy soundscapes courtesy of The Bad Seeds. Continuing from where predecessor Push The Sky Away
left off, the instrumentation is largely based on dissonant string arrangements and unsettling ambience. The bare bones playing provides appropriate musical terrain for Cave to exorcise his demons, with the warmth of that release largely extricated for the haunting qualities needed here. A tense feeling is ever present, due largely to the vulnerable and sometimes quivering vocal performance. Cave sounds like he is on the verge of tears during his murmuring of, “I knew the world it would stop spinning now since you've been gone. I used to think that when you died, you kind of wandered the world, in a slumber ‘til your crumbled were absorbed into the earth. Well, I don't think that anymore,
” within “Girl in Amber,” ghostly backing vocals and somber electronics providing a haunting backdrop.
This desolate journey isn’t one completely without warmth, however. “I Need You” is a song fans probably never thought they would hear from Cave. Warm, droning synths are at the forefront as he croons nostalgically, "On the night we wrecked like a train, purring cars and pouring rain. Never felt right about, never again. Cause nothing really matters. Nothing really matters anymore, not even today. No matter how hard I try.
" The more comforting qualities of “I Need You,” despite the seemingly hopeless lyrics, are appropriately placed right before the soul destroying closing tracks “Distant Sky” and “Skeleton Tree.” The former is a beautiful duet between Cave and guest vocalist Else Torp trading reminiscent musings, while the title track hearkens to the piano ballads of The Good Son
. A bittersweet album closer, it contains some of the most poignant lyrics within Skeleton Tree
. To reveal too much here would spoil the experience however, and this is truly an experience in every sense of the word. Skeleton Tree
is meant to be a record for everyone, a naked, honest depiction of true grief in musical form. No one could have crafted this masterpiece quite like Nick Cave, and the staggering amount of material over his nearly four decade long career doesn’t prepare for what we have here. This stands as possibly his greatest achievement, as much a sorrowful exploration as a loving sendoff only for his fans, but more importantly, for himself.