“Well, if I were to use that threadbare metaphor of albums being like children, then Push The Sky Away is the ghost-baby in the incubator and Warren’s loops are its tiny, trembling heart-beat,” Cave said of his latest album with the Bad Seeds when asked to describe its sound. It’s a colorful metaphor that conjures haunting imagery and after listening to this album about a dozen times, it’s amazing just how accurate he is with his description of this incredible album.
Anybody familiar with Cave’s work knows he’s a master of words though—whether it’s his song lyrics, full-length novels or screenplays, his work has an undeniably rich and unique voice with an emphasis on strange and heartbreaking characters. But how did we arrive wide-eyed in awe of this ghostly infant of a record? He began his career as a raucous singer for wild post-punk outfits Boys Next Door and The Birthday Party, then moving on to his own career with his amazing backing band the Bad Seeds, crafting album after album of exquisite music. What always seemed the most impressive to my mind was despite the fact that their first decade of output was in the 80s, not a single album of his sounds of its era. He’s always been a man out of time, coming across as somewhere between a gothic Bob Dylan and a macabre Johnny Cash; he wove tales of sin, death and redemption. This style reached its zenith with 1996’s ‘Murder Ballads,’ an incredible album of darkness and death. In a complete 180 he next became a heart-wrenching crooner, releasing some of the most moving balladry of the modern era with ‘The Boatman’s Call’ and to a certain extent its follow up, ‘No More Shall We Part.’
Slowly since then he’s cranked the volume up again with two albums of horny old man modernism in Grinderman and a Bad Seeds album in between that had an exuberance and swagger rarely seen from the band. After a fun five years of making us smile Cave brings us plummeting back down to Earth with ‘Push The Sky Away,’ the most cohesive album he’s released in over a decade. This record exists almost entirely in a hazy dream of beauty and contemplation; the line between fiction and reality is constantly blurred.
The world got a taste of this with lead single, “We No Who U R,” as Warren’s hypnotic loops are on full display, creating a sound that feels fresh and new for the Bad Seeds, yet its genesis can be found in “Brompton Oratory.” The track is nice little piece of serenity as he talks of trees with blackened hands and other nature-oriented imagery. It’s the same sort of understated elegance that can be found in David Bowie’s latest single, “Where Are We Now.” It’s a fine way to ease the listener into the low-key atmospherics that permeate the entire album. From there “Wide Lovely Eyes” provides one of his best love songs and the appearance of album-long themes: nature, water and mermaids. “Water’s Edge,” drips with sinister intent and metaphors that mix religion and sex, harkening back to his early years. Just as your nerves are almost completely shot, “Jubilee Street,” eases your mind with a languid guitar line and Cave’s signature storytelling of women and violence. The way the story unfolds and the music swells, it’s classic Cave and feels like a career highlight at first blush.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Jubilee Street”
“Mermaids” incorporates a choir and continues the albums running theme with a song that blends the sexually explicit and heartbreakingly earnest in a ponderance on the fleeting nature of most relationships. The gorgeousness of the last track becomes a tense bass rumbling in “We Real Cool,” with a name like it could have been a Grinderman title, yet the instrumentation sounds like something that would appear on a soundtrack composed by Cave and Warren Ellis. Lyrically it seems like waking up from a vivid dream with an incredible sense of dread as the imagery of the beginning of the album gives way to scientific facts and namedropping Wikipedia. This is where the blurred line between Cave’s reality and the fiction he writes crashes headlong in “Finishing Jubilee Street,” which details the strange dream he slips into once completing the aforementioned song. Despite being a full four minutes in length, it seems like an interlude; a way to drive home the themes of the album and slip in another simple yet powerful melody.
With the distortion of dream and day fully in place, the album’s centerpiece, “Higgs Boson Blues” sprawls out for nearly eight minutes. His timeless storytelling blends myths with reality, singing of both Robert Johnson and Hannah Montana in this same narrative. It’s jarring at first to hear her brought up, but when he later mentions Miley Cyrus it becomes clear she too is part of his treatise on the blurring of reality and fiction. After all, the Higgs Boson discovery, also called the “God Particle,” itself is a strange blend of the religious and the scientific that fits with what seems like his continuing struggle between which he would prefer.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Higgs Boson Blues”
Almost as if to respond to his own quandary, the titular song, “Push The Sky Away,” answers this telling you that whether it’s your friends or your own instincts wanting you to accept reality and give up, you should push the sky away, ultimately choosing the imagery-soaked fever dreams of rock and roll over reality. In the words of famous film director John Ford, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” As well he should, since it has allowed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to create their most stunning work since ‘The Boatman’s Call.’
Jarad Matula | Senior Writer
Warning: Slightly NSFW, but absolutely gorgeous video: