Profound emotions often inspire beauty in music. In July of last year, Nick Cave’s 15-year-old son, Arthur, died after falling from a cliff near the family home. Although Cave was already underway in recording Skeleton Tree at this point, tragedy looms harrowingly over the music. Skeleton Tree is henceforth a difficult listen but an essential one.
The difficulties of coping with loss is an underlying theme of this record. On “Girl in Amber”, Cave evokes the feeling of life ceasing to function normally with phones no longer ringing and songs no longer spinning. Desperation is endemic on the remarkable “I Need You” which is enveloped in synth and finds Cave warbling like never before – “nothing really matters when the one you love is gone” a telling line. He stretches the notes as far as they can go, elevating the gloom to a whole different level. Equally as devastating is “Distant Sky” which features the Danish soprano Else Torp singing “let us go now, my darling, companion…set out for the distant sky”. It sounds like a send-off for Arthur.
Cave’s 16th album is less a direct tribute to his son than a record about the damaging effects of bereavement in a generalised sense. It puts loss into perspective. The emotional gravity of Skeleton Tree is unmatched by any album of recent memory. While it would be brave to proclaim Skeleton Tree as Cave’s magnum opus, it is certainly a candidate for that title.
CT. Review: 9/10
Adam Bielenberg | Music Writer