Australian-British band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ 16th album is a forceful and shamanistic slice of ambient rock.
As a singer/songwriter, Cave puts the capital “G” in Gothic with a bleak and Byronic presence that’s expressive and ego-less. It’s no put on; the man is hellbent on creating a mood.
In the overcast tone of the songs there are cinematic moments aplenty. Skeleton Tree is a visual record that could be the aural equivalent of a John William Waterhouse painting done darker. In retrospect, Skeleton Tree is cathartic and confessional.
While the band was recording in England, Cave endured a family tragedy – his son died, falling off a cliff. The record was nearly done when this happened and it’s impossible (nearly) to separate what happened from the music.
Cave and The Bad Seeds have never been purveyors of happy and peppy music and on that level this album is a cloudy and layered take on some of their earlier material. In the aftermath of his loss, Cave shows selflessness and resolve in his openness.
Sometimes this has the uncanny effect of Cave sounding candid but describing something from a distance (Girl in Amber, Jesus Alone).
Cave has an undervalued voice in the world of alternative rock and The Bad Seeds support his performance by letting him hit the zone where he can emote. He’s not a singer in the traditional sense.
These guys have never been mundane and Skeleton Tree may be bleak but it’s resilient.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon based musician who reviews the latest music in his column, Street Sounds, every Friday.