Albums of the year – September 2016
What do you get when a songwriter renowned for sinister storytelling experiences a personal tragedy so devastating it’s almost too painful to bear?
Probably the most beautiful music of the year.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds was never a band to shy away from bleak subject matters. It wasn’t to be any different with their sixteenth album, despite sessions being recorded while its leading man was grieving over the death of his teenage son.
As Skeleton Tree opened with: ‘You fell from the sky, crash landed in a field’ you knew you were in for heavy listening. As the same man cried: ‘With my voice, I’m calling you’ it was clear you were also in for a broken heart.
Cave certainly showcased his way with words on Skeleton Tree. ‘Lambs burst from the wombs of their mothers’ he drawled in the first thirty seconds. ‘I had such hard blues down there in the supermarket queues’ he confesses later on. But it was equally powerful when he kept things simple. ‘Don’t touch me’ he begged on Girl in Amber, perhaps too fragile to manage anything else.
The harrowing lyrics packed an even bigger punch when decorated with such elegant flourishes. As menacing as Jesus Alone and Anthrocene were, they still sounded tender and moving. Elsewhere, Rings of Saturn offered a whiff of optimism, while the title track concluded with: ‘It’s alright now’.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Bad Seeds catalogue, you’ll probably be aware that Cave is partial to a duet. Partners in crime have included PJ Harvey and Kylie Minogue, demonstrating his broad musical taste. This time it was Danish soprano Else Torp who provided the vocals. ‘Soon the children will be rising, this is not for our eyes’ she offered angelically on Distant Sky, the heavens opening up as she sang.
There was a sense you needed to be in a certain frame of mind to stomach these eight songs of sorrow. But to avoid Skeleton Tree altogether would have been a shame. It may be bruised. But it’s a bruised masterpiece.
Bon Iver: 22, A Million
Solange: A Seat At The Table