Nick Cave lays his cards on the table with ‘Skeleton Tree’, his most powerful record in years.
Cave’s voice aches with emotion across these eight riveting ballads.
Over 16 albums, Nick Cave has proved he is no stranger to darkness. Yet, his latest release, ‘Skeleton Tree’, is particularly bleak.
A year after the death of his 15 year-old son Arthur, the music is wrought with grief and emotion. Across these eight tracks, Cave confronts the feelings of pain, loneliness and dejection, resembling a man without hope, a man struggling to find happiness in a cruel world. This honesty, and boldness of expression, not only makes for a powerful listening experience, but one of the great records of 2016.
The dark, unsettling tone of ‘Skeleton Tree’ is immediately apparent from the opening track, ‘Jesus Alone’. As per usual, Nick Cave and his band employ only the necessary instrumentation, stripping their sound back to the bare essentials. This has a profound effect on the listener, forcing us to listen to Cave’s words, to his story. Indeed, he sings that ‘with my voice I am calling you’. Although Cave’s voice takes centre-stage in these songs, the music proves to be the perfect accompaniment.
Watch the video for ‘I Need You’:
The band’s use of synths is particularly impressive. On ‘Jesus Alone’, the band kick the album off with a dark, sinister synth-line which thunders ominously in the background. As Cave conjures the image of a figure falling from the sky, the listener is given the sensation of staring down a musical abyss. Meanwhile, on ‘Rings of Saturn’ the keyboards create a wonderfully serene atmosphere, providing a much needed balance against Cave’s despondent lyrics. ‘Distant Sky’ is another stand-out track, where the gentle backing vocals (courtesy of Else Torp) bring a ray of optimism to Nick’s story, and a genuine glimmer of hope to the album, be it only for the sake of the listener. Whether it is through a resonant piano chord, or a guitar plucking gently away in the background, ‘Skeleton Tree’ is a collection of songs that sound incredibly textured, with a full, thorough production style.
However, it goes without saying that Cave is the true star of this album. The depth of meaning behind his lyrics will surely provide fans with countless ways to interpret this album in years to come. The attention to detail is staggering, but never takes away from the personal tone of these stories. Nick Cave leads you by the hand through his twisting narratives, but leaves you to tackle the emotions alone. At the end of the day ‘Skeleton Tree’ is simply one of those albums that remind us why we listen to music.
To be moved, to be taken on a journey and to express those terrible feelings of love, loss and desperation, which we struggle to express ourselves.