Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away (Music Review)

Push the Sky Away cover

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

This blog mixes reviews of artists I’ve known for a long time with ones that are new to me. I’ve often wondered if I’m consistent in my approach to these categories. I think I am overall, but there are ways I can be skewed in either direction. Nick Cave is an excellent example. As a big fan of for years, and I’m able to find things to like even in his less popular works. On the other hand, when I already know of the best options he presents, it’s difficult to get excited about the ones that don’t reach those heights. His new album, Push the Sky Away, falls into that category: It has good moments, and if this were my first exposure to him, it might be enough to make me look into his other works. But compared to what a Nick Cave album should be, I know that it’s especially weak. There’s no reason to recommend this, especially when it follows on the heels of the excellent Dig, Lazarus, Dig!

The main problem is that it feels reserved. Cave has always been defined by a fearless, if not outright foolish, extremism. Whether talking about love, hate, joy, or angst, his lyrics and The Bad Seeds’ accompaniment is always over the top. Here, he seems comfortable in the persona of an aging crooner, taking no risks and refusing to lose control. I’ve described his music as a “psychological exorcism” before, but this would be better suited for a dinner party.

The Bad Seeds’ membership has always been in flux, but with Blixa Bargeld and Mick Harvey gone, the only prominent musician left is Warren Ellis. Possibly because of this, many of the songs do a great job of evoking a darker, threatening atmosphere behind their gentle sounds. The good moments fall into that category, with repeated lines like “you grow old, and you grow cold” or “we know who you are, we know where you live, and we know there’s no need to forgive”. Cave doesn’t always go for that dark, quiet approach, though, and he has nothing else for the other songs. Effectively, only one dimension is fleshed out here. At the very least, Cave needs to add a guitarist to the group next time.

“Finishing Jubilee Street” is the one exception, an interesting track whose appeal comes from its novelty instead. It’s not one to listen to repeatedly, but it’s interesting in a blog-post-as-song sort of way. (It’s a simple story, and repeating refrain, inspired by a dream Cave claims to have had after he wrote another song on the album.) Otherwise, Push the Sky Away features the least experimentation or artistic restlessness of any Cave album ever. He has good lines (“she had a history but no past”), execrable lines (“I was the match that would fire up her snatch”), and everything in between, along with a strange approach to naming songs: The titles “We No Who U R” and “We Real Cool” sound off, fitting in neither with Cave’s established persona or the style he adapted here.

As I said at the start, Push the Sky Away is certainly not bad. There’s half of a good album here, with some quiet, evocative examples of a mature Nick Cave. But that portion doesn’t offer a lot of variety, and the rest is forgettable. He’s set the standard by which albums like this should be measured, and this one isn’t necessary given what else is available.

Grade: C+

 
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    • dleonard
    • March 25th, 2013

    I agree.
    Saw the concert on the weekend and he played very little off the new album, which tells me he isn’t buying into the great reviews either! Check out my review at OldStonerOnline.wordpress.com

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