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Album Review
Skeleton Tree

Skeleton Tree
by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

Bad Seed Ltd.

Review Date
21st September 2016
Reviewed by
Paul Larsen

Nick Cave is no stranger to death. For more than 30 years, his art has been underwritten by the macabre, a gritty and desperate fantasy-world writhing with loss and love, underscored by the dark and vengeful. The death of Cave’s teenage son in 2015 could have been a tale straight from that mythology; the tragedy is that it wasn’t.

Completed in the year following Arthur’s death, Skeleton Tree was destined to be a document of Cave’s grief - and it’s impossible not to listen to the record in that light. Despite being written largely before the heart-breaking blow, the songs are often unnervingly prophetic. Opener, ‘Jesus Alone’ is immediately affecting. Built around a haunting orchestration and the desperate synth of long time Bad Seed and confidant Warren Ellis, the song establishes a deeply personal tone which persists throughout the record.

Musically, there are close parallels to draw with 2013’s magnificent Push the Sky Away. Deftly composed landscapes of synth, strings and piano kept honest by more urgent focal points such as the broody and reflective ‘Anthrocene’ and ‘Rings of Saturn’. Noticeably absent however is the raucous whimsy of ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ or ‘Jubilee Street’. They wouldn’t feel right amongst these songs though, and they aren’t missed.

The record’s most heart-rending moment comes with 'I Need You', wherein Cave’s voice teeters on a broken falsetto as he struggles through obvious desperation and regret (“..Nothing really matters..”). No longer in character and without artifice, this is Cave in his own voice speaking directly to a loss that’s only his. Skeleton Tree slips effortlessly into the canon of the Bad Seeds work while standing apart as Cave’s most impactful record yet.


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