Nick Cave Sings The Blues
Nick Cave has been here before musically, but not really. He’s always been a theatrical musician and has been obsessed with death to the point of cartoonishness for nigh on 30 years. But “The Skeleton Tree” is different. Like 2013’s “Push The Sky Away” and countless other albums by him, “The Skeleton Tree” is interested in death. But here, the theatricality has been stripped away. This is more raw, more real. One can only assume this is due to the tragic death of his teenage son Arthur last year. He doesn’t sing TO Arthur persay but the funereal aspect of the opening song “Jesus Alone” with its refrain of “with my voice I am calling you” and its wash of gloomy feedback brings to mind some of Laurie Anderson’s more solemn experiments. Another thing about “The Skeleton Tree” it’s a real old fashioned ALBUM, every song plays into the next song and there is a consistent sound to it all with nothing that sounds like a poppy single or a cheeky “Red Right Hand” to be played ham-fistedly during movies. The dark mood permeates. This may be the least rock and roll album Nick Cave has ever done. The second song “Rings Of Saturn” comes across like a spoken word piece as our Aussie gothic overlord rambles on to an unseen female figure. There is a religious element to this music but it’s neither gospel nor Cave’s tongue in cheek pagan rantings of years past. It’s more contemplative. The specter of some female saint-like figure appears throughout as a lyrical motif like Robert Graves’ White Goddess. It’s heady stuff. He’s aged well really and vocally is as on point as ever but he’s never sounded older. This record is touched by sincere darkness. The feedback and the echoing sounds of his baritone sometimes resemble U2 under the tutelage of Daniel Lanois, that electronic swamp rock but without any soaring rhetoric to back it up. In the song “Magneto” he says “the urge to kill somebody was basically overwhelming” and I did not laugh. “Come as far as the edge of my blood and then swim” he murmurs. The one, two punch finale of “Distant Sky” and title track “Skeleton Tree” are songs of grief and despair intense enough to make not want to listen to them again as I write this. This is music for a torn world from a torn up artist that evokes no clichés of apocalypse so prevalent, absolutely recommended. Listen to it with the lights on. Or off if you’re feeling brave.
Nate Maxson is a writer and performance artist. He is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently ‘The Whisper Gallery’ and ‘The Torture Report’. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.