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Album Review: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - 'Push The Sky Away'

There is a nervousness when sitting down with the new album from a band you know intimately – questions rush through your head: ‘will it compare?’ ‘Will they fail to live up to their previous greatness?’

Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s double 2004 album Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues was a defining musical moment for me, a record that has so much emotion because of its beauty and also because I happened to get my heart broken just after its release.

So I pressed play on the band’s latest offering, Push The Sky Away, with some trepidation, which as it turns out was completely unnecessary. From the opening chord of this flawless, downbeat, mesmerising record I was hooked.

Push the Sky Away is heavy with the band’s signature allegory that has peppered their 21st century releases. But thrown into the mix this time, among the mythological and nature images, are contemporary references – including Hannah Montana, though I doubt in a bid to connect with a younger audience.

That’s the whole point of this album, according to the band– it is an observation of the bizarre nature of the internet to house side-by-side ‘profoundly significant events, momentary fads and mystically-tinged absurdities’; and by creating a record that echoes this diverse hotchpotch of information, it asks the listener to question how we separate the ‘genuinely important’ from the tat.

That’s Push The Sky Away on a philosophical level, which is all very nice and meaty for an in-depth discussion on the nature of modern culture, but let’s be honest – what’s bloody fantastic about his album is it is quite simply beautiful. Delicate, sexy and alluring at one moment, haunting and full of dread at the next, like only the Bad Seeds can do.

Cave wrote these songs looking out the window of his seaside home, which explains its watery imagery of waves, mermaids and beaches. The album breaks like dawn streaming through the window with the pulsing heartbeat of keyboard chords on first single We No Who U R, which run under the strangely comforting but uneasy mantra: ‘and we know who you are/and we know where you live/and we know there’s no need to forgive’.

That pulse, set by the opening keys, then continues through the whole album – like its lifeforce, passing from instrument to instrument. On Waters Edge it is picked up in the dark and sinister bass line while the drums rattle nervously in the background and Cave’s unnerving monologue rambles over the top. The same spoken-word feel is heard again on Finishing Jubilee Street, which evokes images of a smoky beat-poet’s café.

To say Cave is a fan of the dramatic is obviously an understatement, and while this album is far from the raucousness of 2008’s Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!, it still has its larger-than-life moments, like the metamorphosis at the end of second single Jubilee Street, when Cave exclaims ‘I’m flying, look at me now’, just like a butterfly out of a chrysalis.

In many ways this record echoes the mood of Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues. But where the double album had its few moments of awkwardness, Push The Sky Away feels totally comfortable in its own skin, with its perfected lyrical imagery and aching melodies – proving that, if there was any doubt, the Bad Seeds are the true masters of rock n roll storytelling.

The album finishes with the hymn-like title track, its sustained chords reverberating in your head like a cathedral organ and a line that sums up all there is to say about this album: ‘And some people say it’s just rock n roll/Ah, but it gets you right down to your soul.’

 

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Reviewed by

Hannah Masters-Waage

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