Friday, September 9, 2016
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds : "Skeleton Tree"
Cave lost his son in a tragic accident during the making of this album. To spare himself from doing rounds with the press, he released a documentary called "One More Time With Feeling". This album was recorded during the course of two years. His son died at the end of the first session, so it would be easy to get lost in pondering how many of these songs were written after his son died(only 2) , but that would lead us down into post-humous speculation similar to that which arose with Bowie's "Black Star" album, when fair weather fans began wondering if their were clues in the album suggesting that Bowie knew his days were numbered. I think with both Bowie and Cave what matters to both men is their music. So from this point on in the review that is what we are going to focus. If you want to know more find the documentary.
Darker electronic throb haunts the opening of Nick Cave's new album. This is a much different album than what he has touched upon with the Bad Seeds before. The minimalist arrangement of 'Rings of Saturn" bears a stark vulnerability. Very deceptive as the album is more organic than it sounds on first listen. Theremin and strings create the swells you would otherwise suspect to be Pro-tools plug-in's if this album had been made by any one else. Vocally there is more of narration, leaving me waiting for the moments when he sings. Nick Cave has been a story tellers in the past taking you back to varied colorful pages in the seedy corners of Americana. The darkness painted over these songs is done is shades of gray. "Girl in Amber" floats like a scene from a David Lynch. Lyrically this seems to be perhaps the most focused on the themes of loss. "Magneto" paints an even sparser landscape. The voice is one Cave's vocals with the Bad Seeds just giving the empty spaces enough of a pulse to hold the song together.It took this one the most listens to latch onto as the way it comes together is subtle at best.
"Anthrocene" is very surreal and abstract. The song flows with a melancholy calm. That is perhaps the biggest difference in the mood of this album vs the classic 90s Bad Seeds. Aside from "Push the Sky" away which found Cave in a more serene place, his work has alway had a darkness to it. The shadows cast on this album are not of the same tense nature. Vocally the high light of the album is "I Need You" . Gone is the narrative and Cave offers up a more vulnerable side to his voice.It took me another listen hear the almost 80s new wave way the synths sits behind the vocals. Along with "Jesus Alone" this is one of my favorite songs on the album. The lighter duet with Else Torp "Distant Sky" finds them sailing over a cinematic atmosphere.It's clear the rambling adventure is stripped away and these are more reflective in tone.
On my second listen listen to this one I could hear Kate Bush replacing Torp. The title track is more driven by piano and finds Nick Cave taking his place next to the greats like Springsteen, Cohen and Waits as song writer.This is his 16th studio album with the Bad Seeds. I didn't expect another "Stagger Lee" on this album. It's very thoughtful and done with more class, this is not his "Tears in Heaven" , would you expect anything less than him to handle this release in a manner that extremely tasteful and a very focused. This song feels the closest to where he was on "Push the Sky Away". I'll give this a 9.5 as it's often more minimalist and finds Cave more focused on the narrative than letting me hear him sing on some songs, but still stands up with the 15 albums that came before this one. A must for fans.