Review Summary: A very worthy addition to an extraordinary body of work.
He might be somewhat rich and somewhat famous, but it must be frustrating being Nick Cave
. Despite creating an exceptional body of work in his thirty years playing with the Bad Seeds
, ultimately he’s never really come close to being regarded as a titan of the craft like, say, a Bowie or a Dylan. He is seemingly forever doomed to be a cult figure: Worshipped by few, ignored by many and cursed to be unfairly overlooked by the pop culture narrative. Nevertheless, with a new album comes new hope. Will ‘Push the Sky Away’, his fifteenth effort with the Bad Seeds, finally grant him a seat at the inner sanctum of the songwriting gods?
Simple answer is, probably not. But this isn’t down to a lack of quality, but moreso due to the album being the group’s strangest, slowest-burning work since 1997’s exceptional ‘The Boatman’s Call’. With the departure of long-time collaborator Mick Taylor, gone are the fuzzy, garage blues of their last effort (2005’s thrilling ‘Dig, Lazurus, Dig!!!’), replaced by a restrained, ambient minimalism. This change in direction is led by multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, and he leaves a distinctive mark on the album. From the sparse, keyboard-led opener We Know Who U R
, to the gentle blues and exquisite orchestration of Jubilee Street
, his playing is distinctive, calm and assured, creating an elaborate patchwork of claustrophobic textures and subtle movements upon which Cave can play upon.
And it’s the singer himself, who, ultimately, we want to hear from. Vocally, he’s in inspired form throughout, carving haunting melodies that he has said are “some of his most beautiful”. Not many voices on earth are this immediately recognisable, and that unmistakeable, signature baritone is as striking as ever, shifting from gravelly, 100-a-day menace on the brilliant Higgs Boson Blues
to gentle and fragile lament on the almost unbearably moving title track.
Lyrically, he’s as good as he ever was: Whether painting vivid, modernist sketches of embittered, lost souls drifting aimlessly through the world, like the “local boys” and “city girls” of Wide Lovely Eyes
, or ensconced in his own bizarre surrealism in Mermaids
, he can effortlessly shift between different lyrical voices and styles. But Cave is at his best when he’s at his most vulnerable, when he cuts to the core and tackles universal themes of love, life and death: “You grow old/and you grow cold” he spits on Water’s Edge
, “Distant waves of distant love/You wave and say goodbye” he croons gently on Wide Lovely Eyes
. Coupled with that innate ability to deliver a line, something quite powerful is created at these more tender, bare moments.
Push the Sky Away isn’t an easy listen. Full of sorrow, sadness and Cave-esque strangeness. It is a dense, difficult work, but given time, reveals itself to be hauntingly moving and frequently brilliant. After fifteen of the things, it’s a supreme testament to the artist that he is still creating albums like this, when so many of his contemporaries rely on tired rehashes of previous material, if they haven’t already faded from view entirely. ‘Push the Sky Away’ is a very worthy addition to Cave’s extraordinary body of work, a monumental repertoire that hopefully will become more recognised as the years drift by.