Skeleton Tree is a devastating triumph and deserves to be heard.Bad Seed Ltd, 2016
8.5 / 10
2016 has given us two records of reflective, stark sadness. The first, David Bowie’s Blackstar, arrived just days before Bowie’s sudden passing. And now we have Skeleton Tree, a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds‘ album unlike any you’ve heard before. Just last year Cave suffered a tremendous loss when his 15-year-old son Arthur fell tragically to his death off a cliff in Brighton. The sessions for Skeleton Tree were first started in 2014, but Cave’s tragedy is prevalent throughout Skeleton Tree. Some of it is mere coincidence and some probably not. It’s not the usual chamber rock album we get from Cave and The Bad Seeds. His animated persona is more subdued. Here, he’s mournful, wounded, human.
Like Cave, the arrangements are also subdued — album opener “Jesus Alone” haunts with a growling dread and Cave’s opening line, “You fell from the sky/ Crash landed in a field/ Near the river Adur,” possibly recalling the death of Cave’s son. On “I Need You”, Cave’s voice sounds tortured by grief, even as the music is stirring with the optimism of seeing lost loved ones once again. Some will argue that Skeleton Tree is too depressing and will avoid it for this reason; however, it’s an exquisite portrait of pain. It’s easy to connect with the tragedies of our own lives. And Skeleton Tree isn’t without cathartic release, heard and emotionally felt in its final two songs — “Distant Sky” and the title track. The former features the delicate, heart-wrenching guest vocals from Danish soprano Else Torp. The song’s lyrics, “See the sun, see it rising” and “Soon the children will be rising, will be rising” are a thing of absolute beauty. Skeleton Tree is a devastating triumph and deserves to be heard.
The album was released with Andrew Dominik’s making-of documentary, One More Time With Feeling, that deals more with the loss of Cave’s son.