Push the Sky Away
Reviewed by John Selwyn
Push The Sky Away is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 18th release, and it’s the first we’ve heard from The Bad Seeds in roughly five years. This time around we have something certainly less rambunctious than 2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, a raucous rock and roll affair which would have warranted a grandiose stage show and was lavishly produced, maybe with the intent and purpose of coming across as “over the top”.
Here however, we’re presented with a much more stripped and minimal approach. A record lushly conducted even though it may have happened under a bleak and cloudy sky. Push is similar to 1997’s The Boatman’s Call, a career highlight for Cave which sounded more like a man honestly lamenting by himself without his band to back him. Though the arrangements here are different and the message less direct, it helps to keep in mind that Cave is a published author with a few novels under his belt, and we can hear examples of his literary prowess clearly just as on many of his other albums. He can be more autobiographical like he was on Boatman’s, or as is the case here, a grandiose and often macabre storyteller blending personal doubts and unique observations with fictitious aplomb.
These are still love songs however, written the way Mr. Cave writes them best.
The unsettledness is not as direct on Push as it was on the first Grinderman record, a side project of sorts which featured the core members of The Bad Seeds trying out new material, experimental and with more punk rock leanings recalling the youthful vision of Cave and friends in his first band The Birthday Party (1980-1985), but those chilling, spooky feelings that have come along with musical maturity still hang in the background, still anxious in a way when you know there’s evil out there in the woods, only you don’t know how far, or how dangerously close it is.
Wistful, gently haunting, and at times pensive by holding back the true harrowing content that lies beneath the murky surface of troubled waters, a lot of the material here is reminiscent of the work done by Cave and longtime friend and collaborative partner, and original Bad Seeder, Warren Ellis, on the score to 2010’s film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post apocalypse novel “The Road”, most notably in its wash of greyscale tonality. The eerie sounds of Ellis’s electric violin come in to make things jarringly uncomfortable on the third selection “Waters Edge”, like a slow scratch of grown out fingernails across a chalkboard. Its nuances like these, details listeners have come to expect form Nick Cave records that let us know there’s the possibility of eminent danger ahead. The mystery of the title track which closes the album is never revealed, and “Higgs Bosom Blues” casts the ghost of Robert Johnson, Lucifer himself, Hannah Montana and Molly Cyrus as characters in a strange dream as recounted by a man trudging through his purgatory, accepting his surroundings however confusing they might be.
Are they murder ballads? Sure, but they aren’t as menacing as they have been in the past.
Cave’s lyrics are always the first thing to draw our attention, but as told by the protagonist in his unique literary narrative, even the darkest selections here have an element of hopefulness, acceptance, maybe even romance.