Review by Tom Duckworth
Reviewing the fifteenth studio album of a band like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and saying anything ground-breaking is a challenge. Enjoying listening to the brilliant Push the Sky Away is not.
To say that the album is melodic is unlikely to raise eyebrows, but it comes as some surprise that even hints of the aggression of Murder Ballads, the sleezy rock and roll of DIG LAZARUS DIG!!!, and the unhinged blues of side-project Grinderman are absent. The album seems somehow more measured and reflective. Of course, the time-honoured leitmotifs of violence, sex, religion still loom large in the lyrics, and are delivered as evocatively as ever. Like a latter-day minstrel, Mr Cave continues to weave his trademark yarns, taking the listener on a scenic, and at times, gloomy quest.
In ‘Water’s Edge’, for instance, Cave shines light into a murky place. We are told the story of Mermaid-esque girls ‘from the city’, who, dancing by the water, are set upon by a posse of tantalised ‘local boys’. Droning bass and anxious, loose percussion provide a sinister backdrop, not a world away from ‘Night of the Lotus Eaters’ from the band’s previous record. A sweet release is offered by the following track, ‘Jubilee Street’, where meandering, mellow guitar segues into a grand outro, a soaring instrumental movement that, as elsewhere on the record, demonstrates the versatility of stringsman Warren Ellis and the band.
As much as, if not more than any of the band’s back catalogue, menace gives way to a sweeping, if sorrowful, beauty. Melodic and melancholic phrasing appears throughout, as do mermaids, a theme revisited a number of times. These maritime nymphs have long been a powerful folkloric image, and who better in contemporary music than Nick Cave to draw on their timeless allure and sexual potency?
The album was recorded at La Fabrique studio in Saint-Rémy de Provence in France, a nineteenth-century mansion boasting 200,000 classical vinyls and 300,000 films for entertaining clients. According to Cave, the opulent residential recording studio provided a unique atmosphere for the music to come to fruition. The ideas for the songs were apparently compiled in one notebook, including observations on the world inspired and shaped by Google and Wikipedia as much as the author’s imagination.
But how does he get away with lyrics like, ‘She was a catch, we were a match… I was the match that would fire up her snatch’? Does his status as one of music’s elder statesmen allow free rein for such lines? Maybe it is because there is something eternally captivating about Cave’s unique and ever-present brand of humour, complete with quirky topical references to teen sitcom Hannah Montana and recent scientific breakthroughs in the masterful ‘Higgs Boson Blues’.
The end-of-album silence following the other-worldly ‘Push the Sky Away’ title track is a rude awakening. Like other seasoned veterans of the trade, it does leave you wondering where this band will take you on their next outing. Speculation is futile, but this reviewer is fairly certain, that albeit with a certain familiarity, it will be to yet another mysterious and compelling place.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away is released via the band’s own label ‘Bad Seeds Ltd’ on Monday 18th February. You can stream the album in full via The Guardian HERE. The band have recently announced a UK tour which includes a Manchester Apollo date on Wednesday 30th October. Tickets for the UK tour went on general sale this morning and can be purchased HERE.