maandag 19 september 2016

Skeleton Tree. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

The sleeve is as dark as the music on the new album of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds is. As dark as Nick Cave and his family's world most have become when the news reached them that their son and brother had fallen to his death from a cliffs near Brighton. The sort of news everyone with chiildren secretly is afraid of ever having to receive. A potential message that is pushed away as far to the back of the mind as possible, so one is able to live, be happy and enjoy the right moments, alone and together.

In those circumstances Skeleton Tree was made. Cave had started working on the album and finished it after the tragic event. Most had been recorded before though. Now Nick Cave has never been a barrel of laughs. Perhaps in his private life, but not on record. As readers of my previous post on Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, 'Push The Sky Away', know, I never was a fan. Too dark and otherworldly. In the 10s our paths sort of crossed and, yes, we are walking along in the same direction.

Skeleton Tree is a monument. A dark firmament of Medieval proportions. A firmament with small holes in it through which light is allowed to shine on the Earth at night. Add the threat of a storm of epic proportions that excludes all the lights, except in the small openings in the dark clouds that loom overhead, ever growing upwards and upwards. The world waiting for something to happen.

That something is released in the fourth song, 'Anthrocene'. Ultra fast, but fleeting drumming crashes like lighting in the sky, announcing the storm of which it's still not certain it will burst overhead or remain in the distance.

Of course it's impossible to hear Skeleton Tree without thinking about what happened in 2015. The urge to interpret all against it is nearly irresistible. Still, I have to try not to do so. Skeleton Tree deserves to be heard in its own strength or weakness. When I do that, and take into account that most was recorded before that fateful event, I find that this album is not so far away from its predecessor. The dark, brooding atmosphere of 'Push The Sky Away' is all around. Perhaps even thicker, as the songs that provided that album with some air to breath are lacking here.

That makes Skeleton Tree the more impressive. As it is very hard to find a flaw in the singing, the instrumentation, the extremely open, dark but warm production, by Cave, Warren Ellis and Nick Launay. The absolute highlight is the duet with Danish classical singer Else Torp, 'Distant Sky'. Almost a 'non-song' as I call them, if the singing melody wasn't so strong. It makes the atmospheric sounds going on in the background obsolete. Yet so full of quality both are, both the singers and the music, that a monument was raised of a dark quality, that goes beyond nearly all.

The album starts so ugly. A premonition. 'You fell from the sky and crashlanded in a field", Nick Cave more reads than sings. Underneath just sounds repeating a motive or note. Nothing happens in 'Jesus Alone', just ugly scenes that are described, with someone, Jesus?, calling the listeners. Eternal darkness is upon us. With 'Rings Of Saturn' we come on more familiar territory. Cave presents us a song. There's a melody and chord changes. Keyboards and atmosphere carry the song, which continues more or less for the rest of the album. Somehow the quality rises by the song, making it a perfectly built up album. By now I know that I have to start backtracking his career. Maybe my ears just were not adjusted right in the mid 80s? I'm about to find out.

Hope is released in the final song. In the title song, a slow ballad, Nick Cave provides us all with solace. A song that moves me to tears, knowing what I know, but pushed away to write the above. "And it's alright", Cave sings in the final grooves of the album. No it's not, yet or perhaps never will be again, but with a song like this the world may turn out a more beautiful place. Like after the storm and the rain, that sustains all growth, comes the sun that hesitantly pierces its rays through the clouds to shine on us all.


You can listen to 'Jesus Alone' here:

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