By Luigi Sibona
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ elegiac ‘Skeleton Tree’ seems to exist in something of a critical vacuum. Though the writing process spanned before and after the loss of Nick Cave’s son the entire narrative of the record orbits around the black hole-like event. It would seem attempting to surmise its worth on a consumer level would be to trivialise the fact – like applying a marking scheme to someone’s grieving process. In this it is hard to disassociate the album as a piece of work from its context and perhaps it shouldn’t be.
It goes without saying that, thematically, ‘Skeleton Tree’ is weighty to the point of being near overburdened. It’s a wonder how the album still manages to sound so ethereal and never a hardship to endure. It’s a wonderfully balanced piece, all eight songs feel utterly measured and at one with the rest of the listing. To such an extent that it would seem odd to ever listen to any one track in seclusion from its neighbour. The talk of memories and loss of faith permeate all but it’s the musing on the unanswerable question of ‘why?’ that resonates the loudest. ‘Sketelton Tree’ flirts most frequently with the confusion and intangible-ness of loss. Cave’s lyrics deal in the impulsive and sensual – feelings and hauntings that make little literal sense but conjure up a guttural empathy.
The act of listening to ‘Skeleton Tree’ is an entirely singular experience and commands your total attention. When you’re listening to it, you’re only listening to it. At times ‘Skeleton Tree’ is underpinned by the haunting swirling sounds of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ film scores on the likes of The Proposition or The Road. Whereas the deliberate, lilting pace draws back to the earlier sound of ‘Your Funeral… My Trial’ and ‘No More Shall We Part’ but still feels like a natural successor to 2013s ‘Push The Sky Away’. It is hard to think of any recent work, Cave’s or otherwise, that has had such a grounded realness. It feels like a record that had to be made.
For once we would suggest paying as little attention to the number below this review as more so that any album of the year, ‘Skeleton Tree’, works as well as you want it to. It is a genuinely mercurial work, painfully honest and, unfortunately, utterly beautiful.