Sunday, 30 October 2016

Three Albums

This has been an interesting year, in more ways than one. Good year, too. French imagination of Mick Harvey. Luke Haines's songwriting masterclass. PJ Harvey's political classic. The mental story of “Ulgae”. A Season In Hull

Three albums, however, do stand out. Three albums you aren’t even supposed to write about, objectively or otherwise. Three albums that form some sort of surreal, ungodly trilogy. Three albums revolving around death.

First, there was that harrowing farewell, David Bowie's Blackstar, which sounds as disturbing now as it did back in January. It was not a death album, not quite. It was defiance rather than surrender. Bowie's final trick. Black magic. 

Like the rabbit from childhood years that was drenched in blood. A girl called Martha got it as a present from a friend of mine; this furry, fluffy thing with huge ears and a disarming light in the eyes. Before that, however, Martha had fallen from a bike and got a bloody nose, and was now crying, and staring at the rabbit that was meant to calm her down. It did not. Nothing could. For her, that rabbit would forever be associated with blood and tears and that most awful evening in late July. 

Likewise, Blackstar will not appease anyone. And neither will the pre-album version of “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)” with its unnerving story of a bitter loss. Blackstar is a death album, down to the last drop. Death by association.

Then there was Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree. Or rather - it all began with a documentary you hated to see but could not look away from. There's nothing, really, that could describe the experience of being glued to the red seat listening to Arthur Cave singing "Deep Water". 

This was not an album about death - he did that back in mid-90s, with Murder Ballads. Skeleton Tree was an album informed and inspired by death. It was genuine to a fault, and I could not believe my eyes when I read the actual reviews. Every single one looked fake. 

The dim promise of songs like "Distant Sky" and the title cut looped into darkness, again and again, and in the end you could hardly have any doubts about who that 'she' in "Rings Of Saturn" really was. It was an otherworldly beauty, as authentic as the sadness of "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side".

And then, finally, there was Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker. Which did not really stray too far away from his trip to the dying Marianne of his 1967 classic or the recent interview in the New Yorker in which he claimed he was ready to meet his Master.

The Master, though, had long become an impostor, a nobody, a cheap trickster who could no longer get him high. In the days of youth and innocence you may have seen "Treaty" as a broken-hearted ballad but there could be no mistake now. 

Cohen has never been as vicious as that.