Review: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away

Mute (CD, Ltd CD+DVD, Ltd LP+7" & download)

Nick Cave and co return with one of the most reflective and captivating albums of their almost 30-year existence.

The first thing anyone familiar with Nick Cave will notice on this record is the distinct lack of the dark noir which has become his trademark over the years.  Here things are stripped back, at times almost to the bare bones, yet the essence of the band is still as evident as ever.

Ten year's ago many were beginning to pen the demise of the Bad Seeds after the release of the somewhat disjointed 'Nocturama' album.  This itself being the knock on effect of the album of ballads, 'No More Shall We Part', which preceded its release in 2001.

On reflection, though, both records show that Nick Cave is not happy playing it safe.  Much in the same vein that Polly Harvey is happy to change things around to avoid making the same record twice, every now and again there will be a moment where a below-usual-standard record is made.  But surely sticking your neck out is what sets you apart from the crowd?

Push the Sky Away is an album of real beauty, delicate, thought provoking and reflective.  It's no coincidence that guitars are not playing a key role on this record, this is the first album the group have release since the departure of Mick Harvey, one of the band's original members who departed the Seeds back in 2009.  So here it's down to the other elements of the multi-talented Bad Seeds to fill that void.  And fill it they do.

Album opener 'We No Who U R', is laced with steady grooves upon a synth back drop on top of what sounds like a drum machine(!)  It's a classy opener with typical Cave lyrics: 'We know who you are; and we know where you live; and we know there's no need to forgive'.

The stripped back approach to the record even sees Cave's piano take a step back, although not completely.  Lyrically, though, this is as good as anything Cave have previously done, as highlighted in the album's centre-piece Jubilee Street, a tribute to a murdered prostitute.  It's also one of the vocal performances of the LP, Cave's voice increasing in tempo in line with the drama of the song before reaching a crescendo, then disappearing back into the darkness.

The album has a real water feel, which Cave himself admits must be due to his writing the songs in his Brighton home looking out at the sea.  Water's Edge and Mermaids both sit within this vibe - the latter, a love song, with gorgeous vibes and idiosyncratic Cave lyrics: 'I believe in God; I believe in mermaids; I believe in seventy-two virgins; On a chain, why no why not'.

'We Real Cool' drifts in with bassy vibrations before sliding off into a ballad, adorned with pianos before reaching a string laden finale.  It's real classy stuff.  The title-track sees yet more glorious musicianship from the Bad Seeds with wonderful harmonised vocals to boot.

On first listen 'Push the Sky Away' definitely sounds like a departure from the sound we expect from the Bad Seeds, but it's on subsequent listens that you realise this is very much a Bad Seeds album, they're just somewhat muted, stalking in the background.  I expect this record to divide fans, much in the same way 'No More Shall We Part' did, and I doubt that it'll attract many new followers, but for those of us who are ready for the Bad Seeds' evolution 'Push the Sky Away' is the start of something great.

Key Track: Jubilee Street

Rik Wolters

19th February 2013

Rik is a band promoter, music writer, musician and DJ based in Edinburgh, UK.  The Sound Project was formed by Rik...

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