Album Review: Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds

By Charles J Paulin

Husson Spectator

This album, while short, is devastating. In the summer of 2015, Arthur Cave, the fifteen-year old son of Nick Cave, died in a tragic accident in an LSD-induced fall off a cliff. In 2016, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released Skeleton Tree, a heartbreaking yet ethereal glimpse into Cave’s grief. Although the album was being worked on before Arthur Cave’s death, the final recordings capture the waverings of a father in mourning.

A few days before the release of Skeleton Tree, the Bad Seeds released a documentary. One More Time With Feeling documents the recording of an emotional album during an emotionally difficult time for Nick Cave. In this interview, Director Andrew Dominik says that when Cave “realized he had to promote the record, the thought made him feel sick: talking to journalists, discussing Arthur.” The documentary was a way for Cave and his wife and band members to open up about their grief in a way that excluded talking directly to the press; anything too emotional was cut from the film by Dominik to avoid being “exploitative in some way.”

While the themes usually associated with the Bad Seeds (love, sex, pain) are certainly evident, Cave’s voice trembles when he sings of loss. The vocals are raw, real, and powerful. The weight of his loss, despite not being directly addressed in the songs, is evident, palpable. It’s a difficult album to listen to because it’s honest and mournful in a realistic way that previous albums released by the Bad Seeds are not. Cave sings, “I thought slavery had been abolished / how come it’s gone and reared its ugly head again?” of Grief, like an entity keeping him a slave to his emotions. Each song is given a whole separate layer of meaning in the context of Cave’s grief.

Perhaps the most devastating, in context, is the following verse from “Girl in Amber” :

“Just step away and let the world spin
And now in turn, you turn
You kneel, lace up his shoes, your little blue-eyed boy
Take him by his hand, go move and spin him down the hall
I get lucky, I get lucky cause I tried again
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 till you crumbled, were absorbed into the earth
Well, I don’t think that any more.”

One of the signatures of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is their religious imagery and allegory, (most noteworthy in Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!) combined with darker elements. A sad irony is the man who sings twisted hymns for a living generates his purest emotional work at the hands of tragic loss. This verse is Cave losing faith in God after the loss of his son. This verse is Cave being utterly removed from the world, letting it spin on without him. This is why Skeleton Tree is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ magnum opus.

RELEASE DATE: September 9, 2016
LABEL: Bad Seed Ltd.
RUN TIME: 39:42
TOP TWO TRACKS: “Rings of Saturn”, “Distant Sky”

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