Review: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
Published on March 7th, 2013 | Nick Cole-Hamilton
As I grow older I feel I no longer have the fanatical dedication to bands that I once did. This is nothing but a good thing, as the die-hard Metallica fan that once lived inside of me would have self-immolated had he still been around to hear Metallica and Lou Reed’s Lulu. And so it is, that whenever a band or artist who I once ardently followed releases new material, I wonder whether it is time to get my coat and let them go.
This is how I approached Push the Sky Away, the new release by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, especially after the departure of Mick Harvey, the only other original member, following the incendiary Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!. However, ultimately I was not devastated by what I heard.
The opener “We Know Who You Are” took a few listens to gel with, but it is well thought-out, well executed and gets its hooks into you in a sleepy, beautifully restrained way. It’s almost a shame that the amazing flute only kicks off properly in the final moments, but probably better that way than having it rammed down our throats. My initial impression was “that progression sounds a bit like ‘Abattoir Blues’ but not as good”, and although I still feel this way I do enjoy the song in its own right.
The disembodied ballad of “Wide Lovely Eyes” seems like a bizarre synthesis of the twitching and scratchy tones of the Grinderman albums and the heartfelt tenderness of The Boatman’s Call. A confidence of expression carries this track and allows the disparate parts to interact wonderfully.
“Water’s Edge” is another synthesis of various Nick Cave styles, its first wave reminding me of his soundtrack for The Proposition with Warren Ellis, and there’s a bit of Grinderman’s “Electric Alice” in there too. It’s fucking sweet in fact, an unexpected lushness in which the band really allow themselves to explore structure. “Will of love, thrill of love, chill of love” sings Cave, and suddenly we’re in No More Shall We Part territory.
Long-standing collaborator John Hillcoat and fellow cronie Ray Winstone are involved in this ace video for the single “Jubilee Street”…
To me the song felt strange in isolation as a single, but it works very well nestled in alongside the preceding tracks. The “tent-ton catastrophe on a sixty-pound chain” line is truly excellent, as is the notion of Cave “pushing” his “wheel of love” – however, the line about a “fetus on a leash” comes across as a bit naff. Nice subtle changes in instrumentation keep the verse/monologue sections varied, and in some ways the narrative voice in this track has echoes of both Euchrid Eucrow and Bunny Munro, the protagonists (if you could call them that) from each of Cave’s novels.
Mermaids opens with a gambit that seems like it will fail (“catch, match, snatch” seems deliberately vulgar and obtuse), but it doesn’t. This song consciously struggles with itself: it is a really wonderful song, but it veers towards ‘Disney sountrack’.
The violins of “We Real Cool” make it too overt where perhaps it should be underplayed, but from the line “Wikipedia is heaven” onwards it becomes awesome.
Again there’s a real sense of the Proposition soundtrack in the opening phrases of “Finishing Jubilee Street”, but this is no bad thing. More power to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for experimenting with a self-reflexive number, but ultimately I’m unsure if it works. Interesting, though, and with a Velvet Underground feel to lines like “see that girl”.
I like “Higgs Boson Blues”, I do, but the title kind of makes me cringe – as does this whole album at times, I suppose. Nice drums, though, and Cave’s voice sounds great these days although the whole “Robert Johnson” at the crossroads section doesn’t work until the devil shows up with the absolutely classic Cave line “Well here comes Lucifer with his canon law/ And a hundred black babies running from his genocidal jaw”. Elsewhere there are elements of “O’Malleys Bar”, while the track almost feels like it needs horns/more horns for more of a ‘Lounge Lizard’ feel. The concluding images of Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana floating in a swimming pool are unexpected and hilarious.
The closing title track is for me a singular highlight of an album that I really wanted to like. Here I am finally blown away: the MicroKorg noise really pushes the track out into space and deep under water, while the refrain of “keep on pushing” is truly excellent. There is a feeling of captured rage in NC’s delivery which really rocks. Yeah fucking yeah, really awesome understated outro to album. Fucking hella balls tits yeah.
Push the Sky Away is not what I expected. As I said, I really wanted to like it a lot, but there are a number of moments that make me cringe. These are counterbalanced, however, by elements of older material in synthesis with newer explorations, only put to work so as to be adapted into something new. To me it sounds as much like a Nick Cave and Warren Ellis soundtrack as it does a Bad Seeds record, but as stated, this is not a bad thing, but by the same token, it is not necessarily a Bad Seeds thing either.
Really though, it feels like the band/brand is functioning well – this is a calculated yet organic advancement into the kind of new territory not usually explored by a band this age. The references to contemporary culture work surprisingly well, and though they can seem a little jarring it doesn’t feel like a member of the older generation trying to keep up. The sound of the title track at least is testament to this. Their teeth are still sharp, their coats still shiny.
Finally, although I was initially unsure about the album artwork, it kicks ass. I definitely liked the provocative nature of the photo but was uncertain about it – however, upon learning that the woman in shot is his own wife, and that it is shot in their bedroom, I say, “Fuck yeah!” That’s a statement. Good on both of them. The whole thing feeds very well into the playful mythology that Nick Cave has accrued.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!
Push the Sky Away is out now on Bad Seed Ltd. For more information, please visit www.nickcaveandthebadseeds.com