- by James Weiskittel Rating:10 Release Date:2016-09-09 Label: Bad Seed Ltd
The beauty of the artistic force that is Nick Cave is that his records have always functioned as unique sonic statements, as each and every release has found Cave boldly following his muse no matter where it leads. He has consistently remained brazenly unconcerned with how his current work measures against his ever growing legacy. And while he has spent the bulk of his spectacular run flirting with the heavier aspects of the human condition (typically through a brilliantly self-effacing lyrical lens), Cave’s latest release Skeleton Tree finds rock’s Prince of Darkness confronting the subject of loss and grief with a sincerely palpable stripped down collection of songs.
The project (which coincides with the release of his documentary One More Time With Feeling) is far more than a mere rumination on the concept of tragedy, as Skeleton Key finds an emotionally exposed Cave stepping out from behind his shroud of heavy-handed lyrical mystique with what is perhaps the most direct and concise musical statement of his storied career.
The songs on Skeleton Key purposefully meander, ebbing and flowing with no shore in sight, adrift in the emotional wake (undoubtedly created by the recent death of Cave’s son) and nowhere is this more tangible than on the sparse, dramatic narrative of the album’s first single “Jesus Alone”, where Cave softly gasps “with my voice I am calling you”.
The gentle pulse of “Rings of Saturn” and the sparsely poetic “Girl in Amber” (featuring the gem of a lyric “I used to think that when you died you kinda wandered the world, in a slumber, till you crumbled...”) continue to display this formula of minimalistic soundscapes juxtaposed with an emotionally spent Cave demonstrably out front and for all to hear.
“Anthrocene,” with its foundation of free-jazz drums fading in and out is one of the albums more adventurous musical moments while the electro-dirge of “I Need You” serves as the albums de facto emotional climax. The album closes with its title track, a haunting, acoustic driven reprise whose tempo and mood feels almost upbeat in comparison to the rest of the record. The circular, pensive melody with which Cave sings “and it's all right” brings the album to an end on a quiet, hopeful note.
Skeleton Tree is simply art at it’s best. A vicarious emotional experience for anyone who listens as well as a necessary purge for a grief-stricken father; eight brilliantly constructed songs serving as brash, voyeuristic snapshots reveling in the idea of love, loss and the frustratingly fickle nature of life itself.