One more time with feeling.
Released in September 2016, a year after the tragic death of Cave’s son, Arthur, it was easy to assume that this was an album about grief. With lines like “You fell from the sky/ Crash landed in a field/ Near the river Adur” (Jesus Alone) and “They told us our gods would outlive us/ But they lied” (Distant Sky) it’s an easy conclusion to reach. But, as Cave makes evident on the heart wrenching accompanying movie, One More Time With Feeling, these songs were written way before the tragedy.
Of course they were. That’s what Nick Cave does. He writes about loss and mortality and spirituality. He always has. However, this collection seems more otherworldly. They are messages from the other side, a trend that started on Push the Sky Away and continued, understandably, with Ghosteen.
Musically, it’s sonically wonderful. It’s eerie and spectral, full of electronic loops and atmospheric synths, swirling as they create the most fragile soundscapes. It’s a far cry from Cave’s back catalogue. The Bad Seeds, the ultimate rock n’ roll pirates adopt a different role on Skeleton Key, particularly rhythmically. Gone are the chanted choruses and urgent beats, replaced by sublime jazz fills. Skeleton Key shows us just how versatile Thomas Wydler is.
The star of the show, however, is Cave’s primary collaborator, Warren Ellis. It is he who is the architect of this new Bad Seeds sound and it is evident that, especially in the period after the tragedy, Cave is utterly dependant upon him.
And then, of course, there is the man himself. The raw emotion in his voice has never been more evident. You can detect it in every breath, particularly the album’s highlight, Girl in Amber. It’s an absolutely harrowing, sorrowful ballad and you feel that Cave is going to break down at the end of every single line.
It’s a late night album. It’s an album that must be listened to. It’s not background music. It’s an album to reflect to. It is quite remarkable.