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Album review: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

08:00 19 September 2016

Nick Cave, Skeleton Tree

Nick Cave, Skeleton Tree

Archant

Cave and Co confront grief and loss with a record of equal power.

Skeleton Tree comes little more than a year after Cave’s teenage son Arthur died of his injuries after falling from a cliff.

What else could follow than a most grief-stricken record, written in collaboration with Cave’s long-time partners the Bad Seeds.

These eight songs channel utter loss, abject grief, disorientation, soul-searching, faith and the ethereal through sometimes direct, sometimes allegorical stories and lyrical poetics.

“With my voice I am calling you,” he repeats on Jesus Alone, which opens the album with a musical backdrop of cymbal and drums skittering occasionally across a thick, oily synth ooze.

Ever sensitive to Cave’s state of mind, the Bad Seeds here provide low-key, emotive backing that is often more soundscape than song.

Such sparing arrangements keep the focus on Cave, who delivers an unremitting sequence of baleful ballads that can be hard to bear.

“Don’t touch me” he repeats as the sombre Girl In Amber fades out, having drifted through languorous piano while a choir gently sighs in the background.

Incapable of drawing on his usual wellspring of theatrical fire and swagger, Cave fills the void a hundredfold with intense grief and songs despairing of the fragility of life.

I Need You is probably the hardest-hitting of the lot, Cave’s quivering vocals revealing anguish and pain ocean-deep, while elsewhere there are new and touching reflections on death.

The title track bookends the record, closing with the faintly believable reassurance that “it’s all right now” to gentle piano, languid synth and brushed percussion.

Searingly evocative, this is as tough to listen to as it is enthralling; an artist at his most vulnerable and raw, trying to make sense of a nightmare.

Rating: 4/5

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