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Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Bad Seed Ltd

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky AwayLast summer whilst I was living it up in my small way in the south of France, celebrating true heat and the glories of car-crash-like French music spectacles which dominate the season of the votive festivals, I was utterly unaware of the fact that just half an hour away, down a treacherous twisty road lined with diseased plane trees, some of my most revered musical artists were completing the record I shall now attempt to tell you about. Had I known, would I have invited Mr Cave and company round for apéro and laughing down the sun? Probably not at all; my experiences with him and with watching how he treats others have always proved to be satisfyingly snobbish and untouchable. Mr C has not ever intimated an inkling of interest to mix with commoners nor fans. I think this is just, and probably for the best. The mystery is how he recalls so much of ordinary life, low-life in fact to be able to depict in words and music just how dark and bleak it all is.

There is always a bit of cringy-ness when I hear there is a new record from Nick Cave. I’ve never really gotten over just how bad Nocturama was and when I speak to others, it would seem everyone has one NC&TBS unforgivable. The trepidation is unfair though; this being the fifteenth studio album, with dozens of variants, side projects and other recordings, films, books and assorted odds and ends under the low-cinched belt it is probably a miracle that there is only a limited amount of criticism anyone could be justified in slinging at this man. Nick Cave is a genius, with a voice of superior beauty and a tenacious hold on the ability to write songs. He is surrounded by a host of talent who seem generous in their contributory support and efforts towards his super stardom. Perhaps I just hate and dread the notion that he could fail. He is set up for blinding perfection; it is too awful if he lets us down.

Therefore, I’m pleased to report that I have layers and layers of feelings about Push The Sky Away. This record is simple and beautiful and a little sullied with its modernisms. There are many of NC’s hallmarks, his word looping rhyming, almost getting to a stage of rap or rapture.There is sparsity and there are little clues which humanize Mr Cave and let us know he does actually participate in domesticity while keeping a steely gaze on the dark paths. There are ever new ways to picture what goes on between a woman’s legs. Lyrically, Mr Cave is as astute as always in being able to channel the underage prostitute’s searing point of view while simultaneously bearing witness to a visceral man-fear of growing old and bald and the useless, male, dogged trudge up over the hill. At the same time, I get the sense that he has been on holiday in Thailand (or maybe it’s just Brighton) to make observation on the queue of youth parading their doomed flirtations on a beach while inviting disaster to take them apart in split-open torsos revealing the bloody truth of how abbreviated text speak is shortening that wonderous youth itself.

“Jubilee Street” immediately gives a good, hearty Lou Reed impression. That’ll be talked about to death, so no need for me to expand. “Wide Lovely Eyes,” a sincerely enviable love-song tribute to his Mrs, along with “Water’s Edge” and “We Real Cool”(perhaps all is not quite forgiven?) all have a musical familiarity, to me at least, to a Neubauten sound. And I like being reminded of Neubauten for any reason, so I see this as a good thing. “Mermaids” reveals a little insecurity of thinking maybe he’s not quite the right one. O, and now he does believe in God. Maybe just not an interventionist one.

“Finishing Jubilee Street” is perplexing. The Mary Stanford who is mentioned is of course not a young bride, but the name of a lifeboat which capsized in Rye harbour, killing its seventeen-man crew in 1928. I’m searching for a connection, many are surmisable, but what bears thinking is how satisfying it is that Mr. Cave supplies these little intrigues in simple little songs. So it is also with “Higgs Boson Blues.” I am not strong enough to make the leap between particle physics and Hannah Montana, but it gives Mr Cave a fantastic opportunity to preen his fabulous voice in a great spectrum of soft blues crooning, growling freneticism and getting again a little too close to rapping. On “Push The Sky Away” again there is a faint reminder of softer Neubauten. In fact this whole record waxes quite a lot like Perpetuum Mobile which I like in the sound. Lyrically, “Push…” is anyone’s guess. For me, it makes me think of the unbearable blue-ness of the big, big Provençal sky which calls everything into question. Even the biggest things under that gorgeous sky might feel the pressure of it, might need to push back to survive.

This record is short, under 50 minutes, with a very intricate thread of sameness which rather than being boring is more of a ribbon of connection. There is a noticeable lack of the fabulous Warren Ellis sounding like Dirty Three on his inimitable violin, which is probably necessary and gives him a chance to feature his skill with other instruments.There are violins, don’t worry. In fact there are so many instruments and loops and subtle little sounds throughout this record it is a wonder such space is achieved and everything comes out so clear and clean. Conway Savage is back as well as Barry Adamson. Mick Harvey is definitely missing, but where would a big loud lead guitar fit — I can’t imagine. This would be a very different record with Mr Harvey.

The only thing I’m left wondering is that with such a pretty and subdued record, what, in live performances will Mr Cave bust out on? I reckon it’s as good an opportunity as any to bring out old stompers which could make seeing this record toured live thrilling to witness. It is an excellent economy – this record has made me need to go back and listen over most of the Bad Seeds catalogue. O, if only it weren’t for the pesky internet making everything so easily available to download free there might be a huge boom in Bad Seeds back catalogue sales. Modern life rendering everything absent of value? Text talk minimizing everything into obscure relevance? Maybe the sky is falling after all.

-Maryna Fontenoy-

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