Friday September 9th 2016, just a normal Friday, looking forward to the weekend and all the mundane chores that it brings with not having to get your backside out of bed at 6:30 to carry out the daily grind. This day was different from other Fridays as it was the day that Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds decided to unleash their sixteenth studio album ‘Skeleton Tree’ unto the world.
Skeleton Tree started out back in 2014 at Retreats Studios in Brighton with further sessions taking place at La Frette Studios in France during August 2015 prior to being wrapped up and mixed at AIR Studios in London during early 2016. With the tragic death of one of his teenage sons in 2015, the feelings of sadness, loss and hurt are apparent throughout the album.
Tracks from the album were publicly unveiled at the worldwide screenings of ‘One More Time with Feeling’, a movie directed by Andrew Dominik which documented the writing and the subsequent recording of the album. Being filmed in black & white and colour and using both 2D and 3D technologies, the result is stark, fragile and raw, a true testament to an artist trying to find his way through the darkness.
The growling synth and high pitched squeal set the perfect foundation for Cave to kick off his delivery of poetic vocals that weave into your psyche in the opening track ‘Jesus Alone’ …
You are a young man waking covered in blood that is not yours,
You are a woman in a yellow dress surrounded by a charm of hummingbirds.
‘Anthracene’ kicks you in the head from the outset, sporadic percussion interspersed with piano chords and sweeping synths float below Cave’s vocal which draws you in, like a storyteller, you need to hear the tale, keeping you glued to the spot until the very end.
‘I Need You’ feels particularly heartfelt. Whilst superficially a song to a woman in a red dress, one is left wondering whether, under-the-covers, this touches more upon the pain of his recent loss… “Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone ... I need you."
‘Distant Sky’ brings a glimpse of hope with the injection of Danish soprano Else Torp who does an enchanting job, her voice contrasting against Cave’s hushed, eerie, baritone, lifting you in preparation of the album’s closing number.
The wondrous tones of ’Skeleton Tree’ have an almost cleansing notion, ridding you of all that you have heard during the previous 36 minutes of this beautiful album which covers more emotions that I can even start to display.
As with any of the NC&TBS album’s, you need to allow it time, quality time to let the music resonate in your head prior to making a call on what it means to you. you sort of know what you’re signing up for when you sit down in your comfy arm chair, open the sleeve, pull out the ink black platter of wax and drop it onto the turntable, lower the needle into the groove, the initial crackle and pop bursting through the speakers before the opening bars ring out, taking you away to a place that only Nick Cave and his compadres can do and boy do they do it well!
I forget how many times I have played the album, and I’ll admit that on each occasion, I have actually listened, properly, not just clicked it in Spotify whilst I was preparing my organic recipe box meal for two. This is most definitely not the album to put on in the background or in the car – the listener needs to engross themselves in Cave’s delivery of the lyrics in order to appreciate them and the melody beneath them fully. The result – the reward - is an experience that will stay with me for some time, the emotions that Cave reveals, the pained expressions, the desire all make for a fascinating and very moving journey that you NEED to experience for yourself.
In truth, the album won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it really does deserve to be given some quality time in order to make up your mind.
Words by Steve Muscutt & Colin Grant