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ALBUM REVIEW: "Skeleton Tree" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Bad Seed Ltd.
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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd) 2016

I hear elements of both latter-day Leonard Cohen and David Bowie in the voice and in the music of Nick Cave’s melancholic latest record, Skeleton Tree, released last September to critical acclaim.

And for the denizens of the Red Dirt Report bunkhouse, well, Skeleton Tree has been on repeat for a couple of weeks now.

As a fan of albums like the Elvis-centric The Firstborn is Dead (1985) and the breakthrough Let Love In (1994), featuring "Red Right Hand," Skeleton Tree joins those powerful recordings as being among the best material Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have ever put on tape.

With opening track “Jesus Alone,” there is a potent vulnerability in Cave’s vocal performance set against spooky synths and bass tones. And let me say, Skeleton Tree, released not long after Cave’s son Arthur died in an accident, is not always easy to absorb. The trauma of that horrible event has left its mark on this album, even if most of the material had already been written when it happened.

The lyrics on “Jesus Alone” are particularly powerful and somber …

"You're and African doctor harvesting tear ducts / You believe in God, but you get no special dispensation for this belief now / You're an old man sitting by the fire, you're the must rolling off the sea / You're a distant memory in the mind of your creator, don't you see?"

When Cave sings, on “Girl in Amber,” “And if you want to bleed, just bleed …and … “Just step away and let the world spin,” the synthesizer sounds likes the instrumental work of Angelo Badalamenti on Twin Peaks, or even some of the work Bowie did for his final album, Blackstar. It’s all very melancholy and very, very sad. It seems to grow in power with each play.

The minimalist approach is evident on “Anthrocene,” the epoch when the humans rose, where Cave reminds us that “All the things we love, we love, we love, we lose …

And the loss is felt to a great degree on “Distant Sky,” which features Cave and vocalist Else Torp trading off verses, and knowing that in all likelihood this is about Cave losing his son, well, it makes it all the more painful to hear.

And so with the final, title track, we get a somewhat cathartic conclusion as Cave and the band - keyboards the dominant instrument, as it is over much of the record - as the final line, "and it's all right now" is repeated.

This is not background music, and any Nick Cave fan would expect nothing less, as his records over the years are consistently courageous in their songcraft, lyrics and depth. Cave is a true artist and his Bad Seeds (whose presence are not felt as strongly as on prior recordings) have boldly given us a bittersweet gift. Accept it.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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