MAGNET’s #6 Album Of 2016: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “The Skeleton Tree”

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It’s impossible to tell how the death of Nick Cave’s son, Arthur, during the recording of The Skeleton Tree shaped its final form, and impossible to know exactly how the grief of such a loss was bodied forth into sound by an artist whose entire catalog is, among other things, a long meditation on death and the death drive. It’s also impossible to say whether the stripped-down production is what permits the songs’ emphasis on the mysteries of loss to shine more clearly than they have on the band’s previous albums. The Skeleton Tree is about all of these impossibilities, and more. At times, the music seems so weighty there could be nothing heavier. At others, it lifts and soars, pulled up and aloft by Cave’s voice, here so restrained, so measured and so stately. This isn’t the blood-and-thunder Cave of “Tupelo” and “Jack The Ripper” but rather the aching bystander of “God Is In The House” and “Push The Sky Away,” the one who sees the scope of tragedy and chooses to meet it with a reserve and calm precision that somehow feels the only appropriate emotive register. Impossible to know why we’re made to suffer; impossible to know why we’re given the gift of song to help us bear it. Enough that we have it, in all its terrible and humbling beauty.

—Eric Waggoner

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