Nick Cave, one of my favorite musicians ever, just released his 16th studio album with The Bad Seeds, entitled Skeleton Tree. Accompanying it is a film entitled One More Time With Feeling that focuses on the writing process, the events surrounding the album, and includes live performances of the majority of the album’s songs. A brief background: Cave’s twin son Arthur was fatally injured when he fell from a cliff last July. Some of the music here was written beforehand, some after, but the effects of the traumatic event is the focus of both the film and the album.
Originally I had planned on waiting to listen to the album until I saw the film, as Cave had for the most part intended by not releasing many singles in the lead up to the albums release. I ended up listening to the album four times before I made it to the film screening this past Friday night because it became available to stream and purchase (I bought the digital copy, then went and bought the vinyl the next day). I don’t regret not waiting because of how the music fit in the film. Having already heard the music a bit allowed me to focus on the conversations more.
About the film itself, I will say that it was well done, particularly how they utilized silence, often after Nick, Warren (Bad Seed and Cave collaborator in other settings), or Susie (Nick’s wife) talking about the event. I watched it at a venue that allows alcohol, even still it was so captivating that during those silent moments no one moved or made a noise; the air was sucked out of the room on numerous occasions. It was heart wrenching to see them try and discuss such a traumatic thing, to see someone so good with words admittedly fall short every time he tries to summarize it. Cave says they are connected to the personal catastrophe by a rubber band, in that they can stretch and get away from it for a period of time, but they are always snapped back at some point, and he feels it will always be that way. He wonders aloud about the elasticity of time, and of his existence in each moment as something unique to itself, yet never more significant than any other moment, which is something I’ve struggled with personally day-to-day since I first read Sartre back as a freshman in college, but I digress. I’ve always been astounded by Cave’s ability to make simple thoughts or conversations so poetic and hold so much weight, so hearing him talk about what happened to his family breaks me apart. I’ve never felt more pain and sympathy for a stranger in my life.
The music itself is just about exactly what I expected it to be. The strings, the erratic loops, the perfectly placed piano chords, the somber overtone of it all; we all knew we weren’t going to get anything like “Stagger Lee”, “Loverman”, “Red Right Hand”, “Jack the Ripper”, etc. It flows very well, and I think the length of it is perfect. I am surprised by the amount of hope he managed to squeeze in there, and clearly that all stems from his wife and the love he has for her. In “Rings of Saturn” when he goes from simply speaking “this is the moment, this is exactly what she was born to be” to singing it, and in “Girl in Amber” when he sings “if you want to bleed, just bleed…”; god damn. The first time I heard the album, after the overwhelming, intense somberness of the first two thirds of it, “I Need You” and “Distant Sky” brought hopeful tears to my eyes, and then when the title followed to close it out, I absolutely lost it. Such a great way to end the album, with a lighter sense of hope that you can feel; “I called out, I called out right across the sea, but the echo comes back empty; nothing is for free”, and then the last words spoke on the album, “it’s all right now”.
I don’t have children and at this point in my life I really don’t see myself ever wanting them, and a part of that reason is how paranoid and worried I am about the well being of the people I care for and love. I can’t imagine having to deal with it when it’s multiplied by ten billion for my child, and if something like what happened to Nick Cave happened to me, it would absolutely be the end of me. I wouldn’t survive, and seeing one of my favorite musicians who has had such a gigantic influence on my life go through it is too much as it is. All of that said, I feel lucky that he was brave enough to share.
Go give Skeleton Tree its due. It’s one of the best albums of the year.