SEPTEMBER REWIND: NEW NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS, AND GAME OVER FOR UNDERSMILE
September 2016 was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds month. Not for the first time this year, loss has dominated a new work by a major rock artist who, it seems crass to say, can be trusted to handle it with honesty and grace.
One More Time With Feeling, the black and white film documenting the making of Skeleton Tree, showed at Oxford’s Phoenix Picturehouse as part of a national screening the night before the album’s release. And as you’d expect, given the circumstances, it’s an intense, almost physically emotional viewing experience. You watch Nick Cave’s disorientation, bewilderment and scatter-brain distraction as he talks around What Happened, while he and the band somehow piece the album together in the WH aftermath.
Skeleton Tree provides the film’s axial structure, its spine. Each track is performed in the order it appears on the album, interspersed with interview cuts – in taxis, hotel rooms, studio, performance space, office – with Cave, with his wife, with the Bad Seeds. Then there is Cave’s inner voice too, dropping in a first-person narrative flecked with self doubt, notes (“I must remember to be kind”) and deprecating humour.
Cave looks tired. The music is anything but. Weighty yes, but weary? No. Jesus Alone, the first track to be aired from the album, crackles with hypnotic spook while Girl in Amber drifts in and out of time. Anthrocene, meanwhile, is organic, scratchy, night-time glitchy – shades of Radiohead? – right up there with Cave’s latter-day best, and though it’s early days, there’s a touch of Blackstar in the way this album makes you feel: infrequent listens will go a long way. A week after the film, I played Skeleton Tree – side 1 one night, side 2 another – and each time I just stood and watched the vinyl while fragments from the film ran through my head, putting faces into and onto the music. Skeleton Tree might be ambient, pushing the quieter moods from Push the Sky Away, but it is not background. Too compelling. But again, it’s early days and no doubt there is more to be revealed with future plays.
Leaving the cinema on September 8th was a slow, dazed, contemplative drift back into the temporarily inconsequential, and if you’ve lost someone then One More Time With Feeling will bring it right back. It is a draining film to watch, but funny – sometimes – and poignant too; Arthur’s twin Earl appears, and Cave and wife Susie Bick say that they are ‘making the decision to be happy’, to care for each other and everyone around.
Where does Nick Cave go next? Change was one of his themes in the film – the fact that, after trauma, you are changed on the inside, but the world outside isn’t. How does Cave the storyteller, Cave the live performer, carry on while carrying Arthur’s absence? Things must change… because Cave is forever changed.
Just read in Nightshift mag that Undersmile, one of THEE heaviest of bands not just from the Oxford area but from any area any fckn where, have split. Not sure what that means for Coma Wall (good for autumn listening, by the way), but half of the band are carrying on in true drudge dread style with new band Drore.
’til next time!