Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd.)


Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds are one of the few remaining groups for whom every new album feels like an event. That they’ve stayed relevant for thirty years is no small accomplishment – one achieved by always adding new elements, whether through shifting musical styles or swapping out band members. Push The Sky Away is their 15th studio album, and it too is heavily marked by changes in musical presentation and line-up. The most glaring change is the departure of Mick Harvey, Nick Cave’s right-hand man and musical director since they formed The Boys Next Door in the late-’70s. Harvey’s presence is missed, as his gruff backing vocals and bluesy style were an important part of the band’s sound. With Harvey gone, wonderfully-bearded multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis steps into the role of musical director, and his vision for the band, at least on this album, is similar to the soundtrack work him and Cave have been increasingly involved with in recent years. It’s a more restrained and impressionistic sound than The Bad Seeds have ever had, and at first listen I was devastatingly underwhelmed by it. Sure the songs were pretty, but where was the thunderous intensity? The humor? The guitar and drums? Even Cave himself sounded a little tired and weary, perhaps even struggling a bit to lock in with a version of the band that dealt more in Ellis’ looped sound-scapes than driving rhythms. However, with each successive listen your mindset changes, and you stop listening for what isn’t there, and begin connecting with what’s there, and what’s there is quite good.

It opens with the first single “We No Who U R”, and everything that is different about the album is quickly established. It’s lyrically menacing, but the sound and performances are both surprisingly relaxed. “Water’s Edge”, a story of seaside prostitution, and “We Real Cool” are the strongest songs on the album, with Marty Casey’s downright filthy bass notes providing a solid bedrock for Cave to sing over. Fans are divided over “Finishing Jubilee Street”, which breaks the fourth wall of songwriting as Cave recounts a dream he had after finishing writing the song “Jubilee Street”. I can understand why its off-kilter lyrical stream of consciousness is a turn-off for some but for me it fits the album’s dream-like quality perfectly. Clocking in at just under eight minutes, “Higgs Boson Blues” has the same cracked “dark night of the soul vibe” as Neil Young’s On The Beach, and that’s always a good thing – and yes, Nick really does mention Miley Cyrus in the lyrics. The album ends with the title track which is a bit slight, both lyrically and musically, and probably would work better a shortened coda than as its own song. I’m left feeling that Push The Sky Away is hindered by its restrained approach and is one of the weaker Bad Seeds albums. However, it’s by no means a bad album and weak Bad Seeds are still better than just about everyone else’s best.

Tracklisting:

 

1. We No Who U R

2. Wild Lovely Eyes

3. Water’s Edge

4. Jubilee Street

5. Mermaids

6. We Real Cool

7. Finishing Jubilee Street

8. Higgs Boson Blues

9. Push The Sky Away