NO PARENT wants to outlive their child, to do so seems wrong, unnatural. When that child is wrenched from his mother and father so suddenly, in circumstances both extreme and tragic, coming to terms with it must be near impossible.
As the writer Sylvie Simmons pointed out, when she met Johnny Cash just six weeks after the passing of June Carter, "Cash told me that he had to work...because it was the only way he could cope with such devastating loss." Skeleton Tree is Cave's equivalent. It is a work of dark beauty, tremendous sadness, and the struggle not to be overwhelmed by the grief.
Cave's son's death is the backdrop and grounding to these songs. The album musically develops the more ambient strains of 2013's Push The Sky Away, but goes further, much further, and it sounds and feels appropriate that the music opts for mood over melody and rhythm, to become sonic beds in which Cave's poetry (for it is no less ) can delve fully into the darkness. His words are symbolic, gothic-surreal, post-Beat, but naked and unmistakable in their emotion - 'Jesus Alone' being the most outstanding example.
The album's second half, however, changes tone, ambience gives way to gentle rhythms and subtle melody. 'I Need You' is the closest thing to a 'pop' song here, hence it is Skeleton Tree's most poignant and direct track: "Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone".
Yet the highlight is 'Distant Sky'. It does not seek to offer solutions ("They told us our gods would outlive us/but they lied" ), but when Danish soprano Else Torp breaks in ("Let us go now, my darling companion" ) it abounds in deep compassion and solidarity with the grief stricken, giving Skeleton Tree a deep emotional resolve. Powerful.