15 albums in nearly 20 years. So is the celebrated career of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Their last offering Dig, Lazarus, Dig!! was released in 2008, but sating Cave appetites between the aforementioned and this release was the energetic Grinderman project which was a veritable adrenaline rush compared to most of the (impressively prolific) Nick Cave discography.
Hanging around from Grinderman is Warren Ellis (The Dirty Three), and also returning is Barry Adamson who played in The Birthday Party waaaaay back in the day and has also performed with The Bad Seeds in the past, but Mick Harvey is notable in his absence.
Cave’s music has long been regarded as somewhat depressing and morbid. These sentiments are fairly accurate for the most part. Most of his catalogue is hardly music you’d play to get a party jumping…besides Grinderman of course.
So, the band has enjoyed an impressive career and some absolutely classic albums, but to use sporting parlance: you’re only as good as your last game. Well then, what of Push the Sky Away?
Immediately grabbing our attention is the interesting cover which shows Cave presenting the door to a rather lovely female form. This image, along with the lyrical content of the title track would suggest that Nick is casting off some worldly shackles in order to continue to pursue the goal of pure musical nirvana. Well…it’s a noble and promising notion, but Push the Sky Away doesn’t come close to reaching that goal. Much of the content is drab, formless melancholia, which is annoyingly akin to morose elevator music. On this album, Cave has become a virtual parody of himself. His public persona is one of genius, but also of arrogance and hubris. His conceit has manifested itself irrevocably into the grooves of this record.
Adding to the morbid yet utterly insipid mood, Cave mumbles ponderous lyrics which are at times vaguely interesting, but are largely bordering on asinine. In the spirit of Salvador Dali, he seems to have such a high opinion of himself that he believes absolutely anything he produces is to be regarded as utter brilliance…well…
“I got a foetus on a leash, I am beyond recriminations…”
“She was a catch and I was a match. I was the match that would fire up her snatch. But there was a catch. I was no match and I was fired from her crotch.”
“Hannah Montana does the African savannah as the simulated rainy season begins. Curses the queue at the zoo loo. Moves on to Amazonia and cries with the dolphins”
When combined with the dirge-like tedium of most of the music, this kind of infuriating “Nick Schtick” makes Push the Sky Away a frustrating, inconsistent and fairly boring listen.
The one moment of redemption comes in the form of the fantastic track “Jubilee Street”. This song has everything the rest of the album lacks. Form, solidarity and drive. Propelled by a magnificently intensifying chordal/melodic progression, this track actually reaches almost breathtaking heights. Warren Ellis is the hero of this track, his violin and keyboard performances make it a compelling song and Cave even manages to remove himself from nonsense land for a minute or two and croons “I’m transforming, I’m vibrating, I’m flying, look at me now, I’m flying, LOOK AT ME NOW!” over a haunting, swirling crescendo.
Unfortunately, like Icarus, Cave seems to have attempted to fly too high on this track and the wax that supported his lyrical wings has melted in the musical sun and sent him plummeting back into a paper sea of torn and jumbled dictionary pages.
There are other instrumental moments on the disc that prevent it from becoming too much of a disaster, but they’re few and far between…and Cave’s intrusive vocals often ruin what atmosphere there was to begin with. Perhaps the absence of Mick Harvey has caused this ebb in quality…perhaps not. In any case, Push the Sky Away doesn’t add much that is meaningful or pertinent to the extensive Cave catalogue
Nick, you may be an institution but you have indeed pushed yourself away from the musical sky with this release.