Those of you who are fans of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds will know today marks the release of the new album, Skeleton Tree. You’ll also know that the release was preceded by the one-off showing last night in more than 650 cinemas worldwide of One More Time With Feeling, a documentary about the making of the record in which fans had the first opportunity to hear the new material.
Album launches tend to be happy and joyous affairs – indeed just a mile or so at the other end of the city centre of Glasgow from the cinema I was sitting in, such an event involving the wonderful and exciting Teen Canteen was taking place (with early reports from friends who were there indicating it was one of the gigs of the year). After such launches, the singer or band tends to take to the road and promote the new material via the live setting (such as Teenage Fanclub did earlier this week).
Neither of these options would have been appropriate for the launch of Skeleton Tree.
For those of you who don’t know, work was already underway on the new record when Nick Cave and his family were hit with the most unimaginable personal tragedy.
The subsequent inquest, in November 2015, found that Arthur had taken some form of hallucinogenic drug, most likely for the first ever time, shortly before he fell to his death.
At some point in time, and I’m sure as part of the grieving process, Nick Cave returned to the studio to finish work on the new record. He knew that at some point when work was complete that he would need to promote the record but he could not, understandably, bring himself to be subject to widespread media attention nor go on stage not knowing just how he would react.
In December 2016, he called up his film-making friend Andrew Dominik and floated the idea of a documentary to capture the band performing the new album. Work began in February 2016 at a time when the band came together again to mix the record but it soon became clear that the bond between the two men, and the trust placed in the film-maker by the Cave family and circle of friends, would allow something much more substantial to emerge from the process.
The finished work, shot almost exclusively in black and white and 3D, has long sections in which Nick Cave tries to talk and muse on what has happened to him over the past year and a bit. It also has some of the most astounding performances of some of the most astounding songs that the Bad Seeds have ever recorded.
It is an extraordinary, powerful and moving piece of film. It goes beyond belief that Nick and his wife Susie should so openly share their feelings about their sense of loss and grief in such a bold and frank fashion without ever looking for the man behind the camera, and by extension the audience, to offer up any pity.
The other thing that was most striking was watching a man whose very strength has always been his lyrics and prose at such a loss to find the words to adequately articulate the pain he feels every waking day.
One More Time With Feeling wasn’t something to be enjoyed in the same way as other music documentaries. It was haunting and sad and yet it was full of beauty and dignity. It’ll stay with me a long long time and I’ll recall many of its scenes any time I play the new album.