Release Date: Sep 9, 2016
Record label: Bad Seeds Ltd.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Post-Punk
Skeleton Tree Skeleton Tree.
Death is not a new concept for Nick Cave to address in his music. His 1996 album, Murder Ballads, was filled with tales of either committing murder or being murder, his song â€œThe Mercy Seatâ€ was a masterpiece about the death penalty, and various songs throughout his career have dealt with death. But, theyâ€™ve done so somewhat abstractly and almost always the death has been fictional.
Very few artists both equally savor and loathe standing behind the invisible barriers of fame. Nick Cave has spent over half of his lifetime devoting himself to the power of performance, willingly out of the spotlight, and he’s never expressed any remorse. But never has Cave’s own existence ever been more tested than after the tragic passing of his son Arthur, an event that’s forced him to be the center of attention, a source of pity that allows for everyone else to grieve for and with him.
In One More Time With Feeling, a film about both his new album and the death of his teenage son Arthur in 2015, Nick Cave gently counsels against linking the contents of the former too closely with the latter. He points out that most of the lyrics were written prior to his son’s death, that he was too stricken to write anything worthwhile in the aftermath. Nor should anyone set too much store by the bizarre, apparently premonitory, coincidences in the lyrics: the album’s opening line about a body falling from the sky; the recurring theme of addressing God to no avail – which even disconcerted his main musical foil, Warren Ellis.
One of the reasons it feels important to consider Skeleton Tree alongside One More Time With Feeling (the documentary released with the album) is that we know what we know about the record from the film. That was the film’s purpose. A way of providing an answer to every stock question regarding the what, the why and the wherefore that would accompany any new release from an established artist, never mind one who had suffered the trauma that Nick Cave did.
In Andrew Dominik’s uncomfortably riveting documentary One More Time With Feeling – about the making of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ 16th album – the singer describes a terrible event, which has become omnipresent. “Time is elastic. We can go away from the event but at some point the elastic snaps and we always come back to it.” That event, of course, was the death last July of his 15-year-old son, Arthur, after he fell from a cliff.
Right from the outset Skeleton Tree is a very unusual record. Nobody (or at least a very small minority of listeners) is going to approach this album in the coming months without knowing at least the most cursory details behind its appearance. Anyone who has seen One More Time With Feeling, the Andrew Dominik-directed film about its creation, will arrive at Skeleton Tree already emotionally scarred.
Review Summary: “Let us sit together in the dark until the moment comes…”Nick Cave is an artist in every sense of the word, having contributed notable talents to the fields of music, screenwriting, literature, and acting. His musical outputs explored endless genres, and collaborated with fellow Bad Seed Warren Ellis for a number of soundtracks for major films. Despite an illustrious career spanning decades and enjoying notable recognition, he’s never quite received the respect of artists like Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits.
What happens when a particular event dismantles the patterns of emotional response that come with age? One might take the long view like 2013's Push the Sky Away, where Nick Cave and company told a tale of humanity's ever present history as told by Wikipedia and Miley Cyrus. "I used to know how I would react to things," says Cave in One More Time with Feeling, the second Bad Seeds documentary in as many years. The death enveloping Skeleton Tree doesn't get in the way of his limitless sense of emotional elaboration.
People die in Nick Cave songs. They get wiped out in floods, zapped in electric chairs, and mowed down en masse in saloon shoot-outs. For Cave, death serves as both a dramatic and rhetorical device—it’s great theater, but it’s also swift justice for those who have done wrong, be it in the eyes of a lover or the Lord. As I once heard him quip in concert: “This next one’s a morality tale… they’re all morality tales, really.
For over 35 years, Nick Cave has been one of rock's most effective, erudite, and consistent purveyors of doom and gloom—from his aggressive, cacophonous early work with the Birthday Party to the refined yet tenebrous balladry that has often defined his later efforts. And with the possible exception of 1997's The Boatman's Call, on which Cave quietly ruminated on his then-fresh breakup with Polly Jean Harvey, he's always seemed to be playing a character: the brooding, stalking crooner whose tales of murder, abuse, and terror were drawn from an interest in blues and folk traditions, literature, and Old Testament religious fervor rather than personal demons. On Skeleton Tree, however, Cave sounds frighteningly human.
Cross-pollination between the arts is nothing new. Yet 2016 has been the year when prolific artists explicitly experimented with form, with the likes of Beyoncé and Frank Ocean releasing new music alongside gripping visual albums and films (Lemonade and Endless, respectively). The Australian auteur and reigning prince of darkness, Nick Cave, also opted for a visual aspect accompanying the release of his 16th studio album with his band the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree.
Let's get the obvious out of the way here. Fairly or not, it's almost impossible to talk about this record without talking about the unspeakable tragedy that befell Nick Cave during its making. In July 2015, his 15-year-old son Arthur fell off of a cliff near his home in Brighton, England and died from his injuries. At that time, most of the record had already been completed, but understandably, Cave went back into the studio and adjusted some lyrics to reflect the pain, mourning, and loss that emanate from this masterwork.
Nick Cave’s latest record was finished after the tragic, sudden loss of his teenage son, Arthur. That horrendous tragedy permeates every note of Skeleton Tree, an album brimming with loss, death, and ruminations on mortality, but also Cave’s inimitable character portraits and a chilling sonic palate. From the grimy opening tones of “Jesus Alone” it is abundantly clear that the latest LP from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds is not a triumph of perseverance amid grief but a testament to the emotion’s totality.
Cave’s devastating experimental exploration of grief When real, life-changing tragedy strikes a master of dark musical arts, masterpieces can be made: Lou Reed and John Cale’s Songs For Drella. Bowie’s Blackstar. Sufjan Stevens’s Carrie & Lowell. The Bad Seeds’ sixteenth album, Skeleton Tree.
There is a heart-breaking moment in the Nick Cave documentary ‘One More Time With Feeling’ where the Australian icon says that he was reluctant to tinker too much with the songs on his latest record ‘Skeleton Tree’ because they “have Arthur in them. ” The album was written on two sides of trauma, stretching across the chasm of Arthur Cave’s sudden passing, but it’s near impossible to tell which parts were written before or after the event. Nick Cave’s lyrics have always dealt with love and grief, so while the themes seem more poignant because of his loss, in truth the content isn’t so different.
For all of the exquisitely shot scenes in Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s documentary-but-not-quite documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, one image lingers more than any other. After nearly an hour-and-a-half of hearing Nick Cave ruminate about the creative process, and the nature of personas (a premise that would sound comedically pretentious for nearly 99.5 percent of nearly all musicians, but Cave just happens to fall into that half-percent mark that pulls off this feat), things slow down and turn domestic. With his sons by his side, Nick Cave lounges in front of a TV, and digs into a pizza.
Skeleton Tree is an album in which grief is served several different ways: raw, spatchcocked, fermented, brined, grief sous-vide. Naturally, this being Nick Cave’s 16th album with the Bad Seeds, the tracks that make up Skeleton Tree most often unfurl in an elliptical and allegorical way, studded with love songs, umbilical cords and “other people’s diseases”, rather than naked confessions; the album was in train before the untimely death of Cave’s teenage son Arthur in 2015. It is impossible – unnecessary – to tease out what was written before and after the event, but what is immediately striking is that Skeleton Tree isn’t actually all that different from your pre-existing idea of a latter-day Cave album.
Nick Cave’s mode, recently, has been sustained meditation. Most of the music on 2013’s Push the Sky Away is of this sort; unchanging, unmarked by rhythm or melody, a subtle sonic background for his poetry. This works, in large part because of the quality of that poetry, but also because some songs on that album are exceptions – the lush and powerful Jubilee Street, for example.
Nick Cave is an artist who has never shied away from exploring the darker side of the human experience, often in broadly gothic strokes on his early albums but with a growing degree of nuance and compassion as Cave and his work matured. But a very real and deeply painful tragedy was visited on Cave while he was working on his 16th solo album, Skeleton Tree. His 15-year-old son Arthur Cave died when he fell from a cliff in July 2015, and while the writing and recording was already underway when the youngster suffered his accident, the grief and pain of loss Cave felt is palpable throughout this album.
"All the things we love, we lose," Nick Cave sings on "Anthrocene," a dark and jazzy rumination on loss from Skeleton Tree, his captivating 16th album with backing band the Bad Seeds. The song as a whole is so understated and loose that the earnestness of his lyrics catch you by surprise. Here is the dean of literary gothic song-craft, a master of wordplay, symbolism and irony, baring his soul like never before.
Near the end of the heartbreaking documentary One More Time With Feeling, Nick Cave delivers a devastating assessment of the trauma that he recently faced. “It happened to us, but it happened to him,” he intones, weary and distant. He’s referring then to the process of coping with the untimely death of his son, of becoming a pitied figure, of constantly being tethered to a void, but also reminding of the immediate physical reality of Arthur Cave’s death.
“What happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that you just change?” Nick Cave asks in the trailer for One More Time with Feeling, a documentary film that presents the songs from Skeleton Tree in the context of the nearly unthinkable change that shaped them. The catastrophic event, in this case, was the accidental death of Cave’s 15-year-old son. The songs written mostly before, but recorded afterwards, commune with this tragedy with a numb, hardly-there desolation that is as hard to look at as it is to turn away from.
It’s hard not to approach ‘Skeleton Tree’ as an album with an elephant in the room, a malevolent loiterer whose presence is liable to dominate and distort the listener’s entire field of vision. Nick Cave started work on his sixteenth Bad Seeds album well before the death of his 15 year-old son Arthur in July of last year, but whatever ‘Skeleton Tree’ was supposed to be, it’s now become his public response to that single, life-altering tragedy. Andrew Dominik, director of the companion documentary One More Time With Feeling, has spoken of the ‘instinct of self-preservation’ behind Cave’s decision to make the film, and you suspect that same instinct is why ‘Skeleton Tree’ begins in the manner it does.
Nick Cave, shown in 2014, has a new album, “Skeleton Tree,” with the Bad Seeds. Nick Cave, shown in 2014, has a new album, “Skeleton Tree,” with the Bad Seeds. Nick Cave has been singing about mortality for decades, and he's really good at it. Whether the narratives are biblical or pulpy, the victims innocents or death row convicts, the circumstances comprehensible or cruelly random, Cave's songs are on intimate terms with the infinite ways a life can be extinguished.
It would be too easy to expect more from Skeleton Tree than it actually contains. What with the accompanying documentary film, plus the added reporting of his recent personal difficulties, the sixteenth album Nick Cave has made along with The Bad Seeds inevitably appears cloaked in some very gothic drapery indeed. The accidental death, during the album’s recording, of his son Arthur casts a baleful shadow across much though not all of the eight tracks and if you are wondering why, with events such as that to contend with, that the album has kept what was quite probably its working title, then you probably don’t entirely get it about Nick Cave.
The 16th album from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds arrives more than a year after Cave's 15-year-old son plunged to his death from a cliff in Brighton, UK. It's impossible to listen to Skeleton Tree without considering how that tragedy weighed on the band during the recording sessions. Given that much of Cave's output is already so fixated on God, mortality and the thresholds between life, death and madness, it's not surprising that Skeleton Tree is decidedly solemn, though there is a reassuring lightness about it compared to recent albums.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd)At the core of Nick Cave’s long songwriting career are the issues of melodrama and mannerism. While he traffics in big, existential emotions like Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, he’s never written a standard like those guys, something universal enough to be reinterpreted and seep into the culture. The core of his appeal is the exact same thing that makes him unappealing to many: characters in his songs commit mayhem and collapse into self-pity, and it’s ambiguous whether he earns the right to play with these elements.