We’re 16 albums in and the songwriting craft of the legendary Antipodean genius shows absolutely no sign of deserting him
Expectation is a crushing tonic for the inconsistency of musicians, but in Nick Cave’s case there is no expectation, only certainty; it’s just all about where the latest opus sits in the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds pantheon.
Much discussion prior to and around the album’s release has concerned the tragic death of Cave’s son Arthur amidst the recording sessions. Though a significant amount of the work had already been completed, the sense is that Cave’s life has been stripped to the bones and left him the Skeleton Tree of the record’s title.
It makes for harrowing listening, with thoughts never far from searching for signs in Cave’s lyrics of him seeking to address the loss. Lines such as: “And I’m breathing deep and I’m there and I’m also not there/And 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,” from Rings Of Saturn feel like a window into Cave’s mind. Elsewhere, Magneto has Cave offering: “I’m sawn in half and all the stars are splashed ‘cross the ceiling,” while Anthrocene observes that “It’s our bodies that fall when they try to rise.”
Musically the sixteenth album of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ illustrious career is as sombre as might be expected, though, the continued exploration of more synth induced ambient tones gives an added thickness to the sound. It’s a meeting of the new and the old in the compositional techniques adopted by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, with the aforementioned Magneto and flushing title track closer best highlighting how well electronic moodiness marries together beautifully with Cave’s haunting melodies.
Like all great songwriters, Nick Cave is adept at turning his craft to his aid. Consequently you feel when listening to Skeleton Tree that the record’s rawness has indeed presented Cave with a means of tackling the thoughts raging inside. However, it’s also the combination between the classic Cave writing traits and careful evolution of the band’s sound which means that despite being four decades into their career, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds are still able to reel off albums of jaw-dropping majesty and consistency. And where you ask does Skeleton Tree sit in the pantheon of their albums? Right up there with their very best, just as expected.
Verdict: Another stunning record from one of the true greats