Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds ‘Push The Sky Away’ – album review

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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Bad Seeds Ltd)
‘Push The Sky Away’
CD/LP/DL
Out 18th Feb
9/10

There’s been some changes round here…

Since Grinderman briefly took centre stage in term of Nick Cave’s output there have been some big changes in the Bad Seeds camp, with the departure of the great founding guitarist Mick Harvey in 2009 creating a big hole as well as¬ the opportunity for a real change of direction. Maybe it was this and the cutting loose and getting the ya yas out in the great brace of Grinderman records that means that the new Bad Seeds album is a decisive swerve from the swaggering, scuzzy, piratical garage rock of their last outing Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! and back into the kind of sombre, dark edged and filmic gear of 1997′s The Boatman’s Call and 2003′s Nocturama.

Except this is an even more lush and at the same time even darker work, with an addictive, spectral broodiness that makes it a great work.

If I was to describe this album to you as it is you would run away in fear, not the fear that that the smouldering sulphur of Grinderman would put into your soul but the opposite kind of fear.

This is the other Nick Cave- the introspective, late night artist singing songs of love and loss, making stripped down, elegiac, polished ballads. These are 21st century folk blues, neo- radio 2 homilies, the sound of snow falling gently and dangerously. In anyone else’s hands it would be so dull that you would sneer with boredom.

BUT…

It works brilliantly.

It’s the sign of a true master of any form that Nick Cave can get introspective and wee small hours singing over stripped down drum loops from Warren Ellis with a hushed tone in his voice like he doesn’t want to wake the family with his dark and dangerous nightmares. There is a determiantion to go as far away from the brilliantly ghoulish blues of Grinderman and make it work. Each song creates its own ghostly atmosphere of spectral magic and dark clouded beauty and it’s a lush world to get lost in.

There is a subtle touch to the album and a dark throned nbeauty and romance that is at the heart of all Nick Cave’s work no matter how violent the music has been in the past. Oddly for such a deep, devotional and in some ways traditional album it was the internat that inspired Cave as he sat in his Hove office looking for inspiration. Chasing up loose ends on the avalanche of inspiration of the world wide web seeking curiosities and weirdness and meshing them in with his hearlfet and fantastically imagainative scrawls of words and badly typed missives to love and beauty. The words alone are a stand up trip as he grapples with that most elusive of things, love with his ever powerful imagery and heartfelt honesty and emotional kick.

This is the blues spared down and stretched out to another place where the melancholic is exposed in empty landscapes. The opening We No Who UR reads like a piece of graffiti and sets the stall with its empty longing, Wide Lovely Eyes is even more stripped back, exposing the voice over a gospel tinged midnight musing that takes full advantage of its emptiness with voice, keyboard and scratching sound making up the track exposing the old lizard’s gorgeous croon.Waters Edge is as powerful in its emptiness with its hook being a Wardruna type viola mystery lurking the background as the song really spooks with a real chill as Cave intones his fractured poetry to the young lovers. Jubilee Street is the first song to have any kind of guitar hook, a stripped down, narcotic blues lick that underpins a song that seems to be telling a dark history of the post war years with a gripping fear- could be the highpoint of the album of high points.

Mermaids is swirling cloud of atmosphere that returns to the god themes that have so often tinged Nick’s best works whilst We Real Cool returns to the graffiti style titles and a piano intonation, Finishing Jubilee Street seems to melt into the distance and is a song about writing a song and drips regret over the drum machine and moody clatter of the backing. Cave is in really fine voice on this album and his larynx is at its best ever, the abuse and battering over theyears has added to its tonal quality and its authority

Higgs Boson Blues is great- all filmic and 3D and recounts a trip to the Higgs Boson project near Geneva but is really a smoking love song, full of love lorn emotion and a cracked voiced beauty. The album ends with the title track and completes it s journey with the most sombre track on the record.

In the 21st century when everyone is shouting too loud to heard it’s great to hear someone dare to turn down the volume and create even more powerful moods and emotions with the subtle. The album is like the best film you never saw- a drifting world of big sky spaces and broken and lost characters seeking love and redemption- the usual themes but never saw subtly told.

Push the Sky Away was produced by Nick Launay and recorded at La Fabrique, a 19th Century mansion in the South of France where Cave took the scraps of songs and ideas and let his band knock them into the almost Morriocone vistas of sound and space. The Bad Seeds are one of those really craqck units in rock n roll, a band that know how to play and crucially when not to play and ket the songs breathe. Sometimes it seems like every member is a master arranger in their own right and add to the devotional beauty of the songs and the sense of yearning and heart aching space whilst breaking out beyond the guitar, bass and drums rut of normal rock n roll and creating a strange and intersting sound that adds to whole spectral film track sense of space and longing of the album.

A masterpiece of longing and desire.

Tracklisting:
We No Who U R
Wide Lovely Eyes
Water’s Edge
Jubilee Street
Mermaids
We Real Cool
Finishing Jubilee Street
Higgs Boson Blues
Push The Sky Away

6 thoughts on “Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds ‘Push The Sky Away’ – album review

  1. Ray

    A very nice review, John. Any thoughts on the two bonus/non-album tracks from the deluxe edition – “Lightning Bolts” and “Needle Boy”? Since I went ahead and listened to the album early (in my mind – yet another Cave masterpiece), I was going to wait on the other 2 songs. Don’t see ‘em available for streaming anywhere yet.

  2. GKR

    The album’s really beautiful. It resembles the “Boatman’s Call” atmosphere for me a little bit – you have to listen to it more times and attentively because the music is inseparable from lyrics. BUT, I really miss Mick Harvey here and his distinct ability to grab Nicks’s ideas and form a song from them. More than a few times here, the songs lack a form, an anchor to stop it from floating in the air just too freely. But after the disappointment with the Lazarus (well, for me it’s the weakest album from the Bad Seeds), it’s really nice and promising.

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