Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Sound Superb on ‘Skeleton Tree’
Nick Cave shares his most heartfelt emotions on new album ‘Skeleton Tree,’ his first album since the death of his son.
Esquire Magazine put it best when they stated that Nick Cave Finally Tells His Most Painful Story. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds return with an epic, downer album with Skeleton Tree. Skeleton Tree marks the first album released by the collective following the death Cave’s son, Arthur. The LP doesn’t only tackle Cave’s emotions following Arthur’s death, but listening to it, it’s hard not to hear the influence that the traumatic experience has had on Cave. Skeleton Tree is an awe-inspiring, heart-wrenching tour de force, period.
Standout “Jesus Alone” sets the tone for Skeleton Tree, initiating the LP eerily and enigmatically. Despite its unsettling tenor, “Jesus Alone” is indisputably gorgeous in the same right. The first reaction towards the tragic death of his son Arthur, Cave uses his poetic gifts to express his grief. Even when he’s not explicit in imparting his own situation, there’s the sense Cave is being figurative; metaphorical.
“You’re a young man waking / covered in blood that is not yours / you’re a woman in a yellow dress / surrounded by a charm of hummingbirds”
The chorus is reverent, yet grave:
“With my voice / I am calling you”
“Rings of Saturn” contrasts the opener, featuring beautiful, lush production work for Cave to paint his poetic lyrics upon. “Jesus Alone” was darkly beautiful, while “Rings of Saturn” feels pulchritudinous. Cave depicts a beautiful lady as well as her lot in life:
“And this is the moment, this is exactly where she is born to be / now this is what she does and this is what she is”
Despite the fact that he should be infatuated, grief has absorbed him, hence why he fends her off:
“I thought slavery had been abolished / how come it’s gone and reared its ugly head again?”
“Girl in Amber” slackens the pace, once more embracing darkness. The presence of morbidity is firmly planted, specifically lyric, “And if you want to leave, don’t breathe a word / and let the world turn.” Being grief-stricken is also apparent on repeated closing lyric, “Don’t touch me.”
“Magneto” delves deeper into the gloom, in a variety of ways. Few albums feel as black as Skelton Tree, certainly a product of the utmost tragedy. Moody piano coupled with ominous, unsettling synths sets the backdrop for Cave’s dramatic lyrics. One jaw-dropping example:
“The umbilicus was a force that they’d found in rabid blood / then I spin on my wheel like a laboratory rat”
Even more lyrics standout throughout the course of “Magneto.” “I was an electrical storm on the bathroom floor, clutching the bowl” seems to reference drug-use, without explicitly referencing it. “My monstrous little memory had swallowed me whole / It was the year I officially became the bride of Jesus,” is a reaction to reaching rock bottom. The most relevant in reference to the death of Arthur Cave:
“Oh, the urge to kill somebody was basically overwhelming / I had such hard blues down there in the supermarket queues”
The emotions are authentic.
“Anthrocene” isn’t “a ray of sunshine,” but nor is it quite as dreary. One of the distinct features is a jazzy groove, which sounds uncharacteristic compared to the rest of the album. Still, the degree of dreariness shouldn’t be taken for any sense of optimism:
“All the things we love, we love, we love, we lose / it’s our bodies that fall when they try to rise / and I hear you been looking out for something to love”
“Anthrocene” is a geological reference to modern age, which is properly referred to as Anthropocene.
“I Need You”
Beyond “Jesus Alone” and “Magneto,” “I Need You” is the most difficult song to listen to. Cave seems to recollect about past things he’s lost, with the ultimate narrative of loss being his son:
“I saw you stand there in the supermarket / with your red dress falling and your eyes are to the ground / nothing really matters, nothing really matters when the one you love is gone / you’re still in me baby”
As “I Need You” progresses, so does the intensity of emotions. Clearly pained, Cave tackles his most painful loss head-on, suggesting, “Cause nothing really matters,” in effect that he wants Arthur back, naturally. After getting his grief out of his system, he sings to himself, “Just breathe, just breathe.”
“Distant Sky” features Elsa Torp, who trades verses with Cave. Radiant and incredibly chilling in quality, “Distant Sky” is surprisingly set in a major key. Even so, the melancholia is clear:
“They told us our gods would outlive us / but they lied.”
The melancholiest lyric isn’t performed by Cave, but rather Torp who sings:
“Soon the children will be rising, will be rising / this is not for our eyes.”
“Distant Sky” is another part of the grieving process for Cave. “Skeleton Tree” concludes showcasing acceptance. Cave sings, “And it’s alright now.” He’s not restored – there’s still pain – but he’s clearly in a better state of mind.
Few albums shine as bright as Skeleton Tree. It’s clear that Nick Cave put every ounce of himself into this album. The listener can perceive the depth of emotion. While understanding Cave’s loss can never be understood by those who haven’t experienced such, Cave conveys it as accurately, authentically, and humanly as possible through the music. Simply put, Skeleton Tree is a masterpiece.
Gems: “Jesus Alone,” “Girl in Amber,” “Magneto,” “Anthrocene” & “I Need You”
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds • Skeleton Tree • Bad Seeds Ltd • Release: 9.9.16
Photo Credit: Bad Seeds Ltd