Recorded in the aftermath of terrible personal tragedy, following the death of Nick Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur, Skeleton Tree is a record freighted with sadness.
His vocals on Girl in Amber and I Need You sound parched and frail and almost unbearably poignant yet the singer is resolved to carry on and say what he has to say.
Like its predecessor, Push Away The Sky, Skeleton Key is quiet and sombre, but here the musical settings are largely electronic throbs with the occasional dab of acoustic guitar, bass, strings and drums.
Cave seems as determined as ever not to be autobiographical but the record’s tone gives more away than he ever need say explicitly.
Alongside David Bowie’s Blackstar, Skeleton Tree is the best record yet released this year.
Since the Radiohead-inspired introspection of his 2001 album Regeneration and the wistful chamber pop of its follow-up Absent Friends, Neil Hannon has reverted to doing what he does best over the past decade – writing clever, wry, character-driven songs steeped in melody and a healthy sense of the absurd.
Few lyricists would probably think to rhyme “stature” with “child catcher” but Hannon pulls it off to humorous effect on Napoleon Complex. Catherine the Great commemorates Russia’s longest serving female ruler with trumpets, harps and bells (“She might have conquered a third of the world/But inside she was a sensitive girl”).
The best song here however is the straightest – To The Rescue is a lovelorn tale with more than a hint of Serge Gainsbourg to its arrangement of harpsichord, organ, guitar and sighing strings.
The Monochrome Set’s 38-year history takes in some fine music, a couple of former members of Adam and the Ants, a brief flirtation with a major label and an unlikely cover version of one of their songs by Fatboy Slim and Iggy Pop.
Cosmonaut, their 13th album, retains their jangly pop zest as well as a fondness for daft song titles such as Squirrel in a Hat and Stick Your Hand Up If You’re Louche.
Fans of Edwyn Collins and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions should enjoy such unashamedly joyful tunes as Suddenly, Last Summer and Monkey Suitcase.
ITV’s revived comedy drama Cold Feet might be set across the Pennines but Yorkshire is well represented on the soundtrack to the new series. Alongside the velvety croon of Sheffield balladeer Richard Hawley is Babybird, the musical alias of Stephen Jones, whose song You’re Gorgeous has proved as durable as the Manchester-set series starring James Nesbitt, Hermione Norris, Fay Ripley, Robert Bathurst and John Thomson, itself. There’s also the Steel City’s Joe Cocker, with a gravelly rendition of Traffic’s Feelin’ Alright, and Ripon newcomer Billie Marten, whose delicate tune Lionhearted comes from her debut album, Writing of Blues and Yellows.
Elsewhere this double CD is a bit of a musical pot pourri, with James Bay nestling next to Jess Glynne, Hall and Oates beside Blondie, The Jam and Sister Sledge. Doves, Guy Garvey, Happy Mondays and New Order fly the musical flag for the Red Rose county. There’s also Terence Trent D’Arby impassioned reading of Heartbreak Hotel and the simply brilliant Backlash Blues by Nina Simone, which sounds as politically relevant as ever. All that, plus a bit of James Nesbitt, makes this a worthy purchase.
Swamp rock four-piece Folk Devils’ lifespan was short – their recorded output essentially comprised two singles and an EP released between 1984 and 1985 – but there’s much for adherents of The Birthday Party, The Gun Club and The Fall to savour in the new compilation Beautiful Monsters.
Dedicated to their late singer and guitarist Ian Lowery, it’s a powerful reminder of the Notting Hill group’s savage rock ’n’ roll riffs and biting lyrics which are best exemplified by English Disease (“Murdered by boredom, frozen by degrees/You’ve got the first symptom of the English disease”) and Evil Eye (“There’s no percentage in you asking why/I eat what I see through my evil eye”).
Eight additional demos suggest the band had much more to give when it imploded in early 1986 but as testimony to a fearsome talent, this CD is impressive.