The Art of Mourning – Nick Cave’s “Skeleton Tree”

You fell from the sky / Crash landed in a field

Nick Cave is grieving. On the 14th of July 2016, Arthur Cave fell from a cliff above the Ovingdean Gap in Brighton. He was only 15. With the first track on the album, Jesus Alone, Nick Cave recalls the moment he lost his son.

Skeleton Tree is a story that demands your complete attention. Of course, storytelling has always been the staple in Cave’s albums, his growling voice accompanied by a top-tapping rhythm and a gun slinging attitude that sang of murderers, sinners and madmen. In Skeleton Tree the sound is minimal, the atmosphere oppressive and Cave’s voice takes the stage as your sole guide in the darkness, sparingly complemented by a ghostly choir.

Jesus Alone is followed by Rings of Saturn and Girl in Amber which evoke the sorrow and descent into despair of a female character that shares in the pain of losing of child: You kneel, lace up his shoes, your little blue-eyed boy/ Take him by his hand, go move and spin him down the hall.


Album cover screen

By the time Magneto starts playing, Cave’s grief becomes your grief and your chest is heavy and your eyes are wet from the tears.

The first half of the album evokes an eerie coldness that is similar to the Scandinavian atmosphere that you might find in bands such as Sigur Ros and Efterklang. Cave leads you into a barren forest to shiver to death.

Anthrocene is pure Radiohead on codeine before Cave lets go for a moment in I Need You as he cries:

Nothing really matters, nothing really matters when the one you love is gone.

The soft lament is back in Distant Sky, as an eerie female voice beckons: Let us go now, my darling companion and the album ends with Skeleton Tree and it’s dismaying conclusion: I called out, I called out/ Right across the sea /But the echo comes back in, dear.

On Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave is at his most vulnerable.  It feels like Stagger Lee is but a ghost.

This is how an artist mourns.

Main photo via

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