Sunday, 18 December 2016

My Top Ten Albums of 2016 - Number 5

5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree

I've already written about my initial reaction to Nick Cave's latest album. What I didn't tell you in that post was that I listened to it first very late at night (as I often do with music these days) before going to sleep. It was a disturbed night's sleep, to say the least, and I woke up thinking about the opening track in particular at about 3am, and couldn't get back to sleep. I'd thought that the whole album had been written in reaction to Cave's recent tragedy, but soon after Steve told me much of it had been written before that, which is in some ways even more frightening.

I haven't seen the documentary One More Time With Feeling, perhaps that will give me the full story, but for now it's safe to say that my initial reaction proved correct in one way at least: this is definitely one of the best albums of the year and it's up there with Cave's best too (although its bleakness prevents me from loving it in the same way I do Murder Ballads or The Boatman's Call).

Jesus Alone is still one of the scariest songs I've ever heard, and that's down to the music just as much as the stark, horrifying lyrics. Elsewhere, however, there's real beauty to be found, despite Cave's apocalyptic imagery. He finds it in the strangest places: take Rings Of Saturn, which mixes Stephen King-esque imagery...
Upside down and inside out and on all eights
You're like a funnel-web
Like a black fly on the ceiling
Skinny, white haunches high in the sky
And a black oily gash crawling backwards across the carpet to smash all over everything
Wet, black fur against the sun going down
Over the shops and the cars and the crowds in the town
...with a hauntingly lovely chorus...
And this is the moment, this is exactly where she is born to be
Now this is what she does and this is what she is
Things gets darker still on tracks like Magneto and Anthrocene, and then there's I Need You, which is about as far from Leo Sayer as you can get and still be a love song. Forget Murder Ballads, this is an out-and-out funeral ballad. Heartbreak never sounded so mournful and desperate, yet somehow, like much of this album, touched with a strange kind of hope.

All of which leads us to the final track (at 8 tracks, it's a mercifully short album... as are many of this year's best), the... I keep looking for synonyms for beautiful, because that's the word I think best sums up this album, despite its subject matter. In that alone, it's the best album I've heard all year... but it's not my Number One. Because this year, more than any other, I needed a little more romance, nostalgia, wit, and escapist fun from my record collection. And I did find that... as we'll discuss very soon.

Think that's as dark as my Top Ten of 2016 gets? Number 4 begs to differ...


  1. The least played album in my own top 20. Bleak is the word, but it's a truly remarkable piece of work.

  2. Something darker than Nick Cave - officially intrigued

    1. The clue's in the title. Although, being honest, it's not half as dark as it suggests it might be.

  3. Have this in my top 10 as well. It makes sense for artists to create music as self-therapy, and when the music is this strong then I think it becomes universal for those who have experienced loss. In the past he tended to obscure the truth, but on this occasion I suppose the emotions were too powerful to conceal.

  4. *even if you haven't experienced loss, the album is still haunting. The music calls us to show empathy for his loss, and we need more empathy in the world


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