A Devastating Album
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds new album, 'Skeleton Tree', starts with ‘Jesus Alone’. Cave’s hypnotic voice draws the listener in to a deliberately unsettling song with some opaque lyrics that are ripe for you to draw your own meanings from them. ‘Rings of Saturn’ has a beautiful melody and is the nearest the album comes to uplifting, at least in terms of the tune if not the lyrics.
'Skeleton Tree' is an album suffused throughout with the loss suffered by Cave when his son, Arthur, died last year. When, as in the track, ‘Magneto’ he sings about vomiting in the sink it feels like an intrusion into a very private moment that may have been better to have remained private.
It is a very confronting album for anyone who has suffered a loss but more so for anyone who has lost a friend or a family member before their time. In ‘Anthrocene’ he observes that ‘Everything we love, we lose’ and he ends with the song with the line ‘Close your eyes, little one and brace yourself’.
Cave is not in the business of reaching for happy endings or even meaning in such a catastrophic event. Indeed, he explicitly rejects the idea of any meaning to life at all. On ‘Distant Sky’ the mood is lifted by the gorgeous voice of Else Torp who promises that the ‘Children are rising’ but in the same song Cave is clear when he proclaims ‘They said our Gods would outlive us, but they lied’.
Is it a great album? Absolutely, and almost certainly his finest moment. Will, I personally listen to it again? Absolutely not. Cave is one of our great modern singer songwriters and I would prefer to delve in to his marvelous catalogue of previous works rather than intrude any further in to his public grief.