The sixteenth album from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds was released on 9th September 2016. One thing that you can say about Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is that they are never dull or boring, the new album ‘Skeleton Tree’ proves that point. There is much despair, anguish and torment in most of the records eight tracks. All the lyrics on the album are written by Nick Cave and as usual the music was composed in tandem between Cave and Warren Ellis. While none of these lyrics are written in the first person I wonder how much of the lyrical content is drawn from the tragic accident that saw his 15-year-old son die last year. According to most reports though some of these songs may have been recorded before the death of his son.
The production from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is clean and fresh and the music is sparse and at times desolate giving a marvellous platform for Nick’s complex lyrics which sometimes step from the depths of complexity to become clear and simple. Opening track “Jesus Alone” hits you like a sonic assault on all of your senses. Cave transcends the rock star mould, he is a true artist. As with many of his songs God gets a few mentions; there is a line in “Jesus Alone” which hits hard and calls out on people to question religion, well in my opinion it does; ‘You believe in God, but you get no special dispensation for this belief now’.
“Girl In Amber” is one of the most haunting songs of loss that I have heard in many years, I was moved immensely by it. The opening line, ‘Some go and some stay behind’, drags you in to a desperately sad combination of music and lyrics. If this track fails to move you then I suspect that you weren’t listening or you have an ice-cold heart. For me “Anthrocene” contains some of the finest lyrics Nick Cave has ever written. In someone else’s hands this song would come across as a depressing dirge, but backed by the immaculate Bad Seeds Nick Cave turns it into a beautifully crafted song that tears at every one of your emotions. “Anthrocene” will work as a standalone poem too. The word itself is, I think, derived from the Greek for what might be translated as new man.
The most soulful vocal on the whole album, and the vocals are excellent throughout, is provided on “I Need You”. This is another emotionally wrenching ballad where the lyrics seem almost conjoined with the music. How can you fail to be moved by the simple starkness and darkness of the line “Nothing really matters, nothing really matters when the one you love is gone”? Danish soprano Else Torp provides a haunting vocal on “Distant Sky”. The album’s title track and closing song “Skeleton Tree” feels more hopeful than anything else here. With its closing repeated line “and it’s alright now” left me in a relatively uplifted mood.
This album is among the most beautiful that I have ever heard. It is one that you should take the time to sit and listen to with no distractions. In my opinion it is a big contender for album of the year and I can see it topping many end of year polls. If you love Nick Cave then you will clearly take this album into your soul. If you are new to Nick Cave or haven’t listened to him and the Bad Seeds much then this isn’t a bad place to start becoming more acquainted with him.