Push the Sky Away Review – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (published on 24 February 2013 on www.wirelessmag.co.uk)
Push the Sky Away is a nine track long parade of solemn infatuation. Following the ferocious orgy of sound that was Grinderman 1 and 2, the savagery and lust has evaporated in the 15th Bad Seeds album, leaving a swimming hangover in its wake.
The gentle strokes of noire make the album feel more like a throw back to No More Shall We Part and Nocturama, but the barricade of sorrow that was present in the earlier Bad Seeds albums has crumbled down into a new found whimsical curiosity about the modern world. Gone are the mythological and biblical imagery that Nick Cave fans will be familiar with. Instead references to Hannah Montana and Wikipedia have taken their place. The lyrics still have a twinge of dark humour to them, but a harrowing tenderness makes up the skeleton of the album.
The experimental music that was laced throughout Dig, Lazarus, Dig and Grinderman’s work bleed into the mix but they are layered under the dreamy lyrics woven by Cave. The snarling sounds of Warren Ellis have been stripped back into gentle progressions and the heavy punchy beats of drummer Jim Sclavunos have been replaced by a subtle, at times lazy, back track.
For most of the album the music lingers behind the vocals, on certain tracks seeming only to exist as a guide to Cave’s dominant performance. Occasionally sinister sounds will break out of the elegant minimalist mix, rising to a crescendo of violin and piano. The swirls of melody built by Ellis in Waters’ Edge and the single Jubilee Street are the crashing waves that Cave moves his poetry across.
The opening song, We No Who U R introduces the album with ghostly backing vocals (“We know who you are, we know where you live and we know there’s no need to forgive.”) which sound as if they’re rising up from a forest floor. The song is dripping with gentle ambiance that mellows and unsettles in equal doses.
Push the Sky Away is best digested in two parts. Closing the first half on the starry-eyed lyrics and shimmering harmonies of Mermaids, the second half opens with the jittery guitar pulse of We Real Cool. The album closes on a high with the penultimate song featuring a penetrating vocal performance by Cave in Higgs Boson Blues. He weaves a tale of obsession and detachment in the information age, laying his hallucinatory ballad over a rising chorus.
However, there is no doubt that the fangs Ellis bared on the more recent albums have been blunted. The wild and talented music man, who proudly took over the stage from guitarist Mick Harvey seems to simply be composing a soundtrack to Cave’s imaginings. As a result the album is lacking in variety and the band feels disjointed by walls of silence.
Like many Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds albums, Push the Sky Away is a slow burner that will eventually seduce and absorb the listener. However, the musical hooks and sleazy indulgence that makes the Bad Seeds so intoxicating is missing. Like a painting, each brush stroke is beautifully executed but together they make a picture that offers little in the way of unpredictability.
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