Nick Cave, “Push the Sky Away” reviews from Sunday Times, BBC, Guardian & Pitchfork

Well, the excellent new Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds LP is going down well… and we agree –  read the Gods and Alcoves review here.

Sunday Times review

2013-02-17 10.32.55

BBC website review

An LP as weighty, compelling and brilliant as The Bad Seeds have ever produced.

A couple of years after 2004’s double-album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, Nick Cave and various Bad Seeds turned to a fledgling project they named Grinderman as a means of escaping the weight and expectation of their established act. Via some charged, deranged rock’n’roll, it accomplished exactly what its architects intended, enabling them to come on strong with 2008’s acclaimed Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! and clear the palette for Push the Sky Away, their 15th studio album.

The product of a newly reconfigured Bad Seeds (their first album without founding member Mick Harvey, who left in 2009), Cave employs the metaphor of albums as children in its press release, likening it to “the ghost-baby in the incubator” wherein “Warren [Ellis]’s loops are its tiny, trembling heart-beat”. It is certainly a far stranger, subtler record than that last Bad Seeds outing. And in its own way this is every bit as fierce and uncompromising as both Grinderman LPs.

Lead single We No Who U R sets the template: a hymnal slow-burner replete with elemental imagery, it falls somewhere between simmering menace and odd, enchanting beauty. Over the following songs, Cave and his cohorts revel in this dichotomy.
Wide Lovely Eyes and We Real Cool are set against ominously rumbling guitar and bass respectively; strings, piano and backing vocals have to force their way upward in the mix to let in a little light, the ensuing interplay between tension and release exquisitely wrought.

“Wikipedia is heaven / When you don’t want to remember no more,” sighs Cave at one point, referencing the forays around arcane corners of the internet that influenced his songwriting.

These come to the fore in Higgs Boson Blues, a psychotropic eight-minute odyssey that finds him dwelling on everything from nightmarish depictions of Lucifer and disease-carrying missionaries to Miley Cyrus. The record closes with its title track, a call-to-arms both hushed and bracing in turn. “Some people say it’s just rock and roll / Oh, but it gets you right down to your soul / You’ve gotta keep on pushing,” Cave asserts.

It becomes increasingly evident the song is aimed at himself as much as anyone, on an LP as weighty, compelling and brilliant as The Bad Seeds have ever produced.

Guardian review

After the tongue-in-cheek garage noise of his Grinderman project, Cave and co have slowed the tempo. The Bad Seeds’ 15th album, the first without longstanding cohort Mick Harvey, features funeral-paced songs and stripped-down music that calls to mind Leonard Cohen fronting James Blake minimalism, or Cave’s own, gently haunting The Boatman’s Call. Watery and seafaring imagery abounds in Mermaids and Water’s Edge, in which day tripping city girls “take their bodies apart” for sexually predatorial local boys.

Cave’s adopted home of Brighton may or may not inform Wide Lovely Eyes’s bleak narrative of closed-down funfairs and mermaids hung by their hair. Grinderman and the Death of Bunny Munroe novel haven’t exhausted Cave’s store of ribald, black humour (“I was the match that would fire up her snatch,” he sings at one point) and Higgs Boson Blues finds equal evil in Lucifer and Miley Cyrus. But Cave is mostly in his familiar role as sombre, shadowy storyteller-observer. There aren’t the guitar storms of a Mercy Seat or Do You Love Me? but Jubilee Street – a beguiling tale of brothels and hypocrisy – could quietly become another Seeds classic.

Pitchfork review

Push the Sky Away is the 15th official album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but it could almost be their first. After 30 years together, the band has effectively come full circle, having completed its evolution from untamed beast to rock dignitary and, via the fearsome alter-ego offshoot Grinderman, back again. Factor in the recent resignation of Mick Harvey (Cave’s right hand man since their Boys Next Door days in the late 1970s), and the sudden deep-sixing of Grinderman (as a recording entity, at least), and the Bad Seeds’ reliably black essence now more closely resembles a blank canvas.

Push the Sky Away scans as the Bad Seeds’ post-Grinderman comedown album, to be filed alongside statelier turns like 1997’s The Boatman’s Call and 2001’s No More Shall We Part. But where the Bad Seeds’ mellow records usually find Cave in pensive, piano-man mode, Push the Sky Away presents an uncharacteristically weightless, eerily atmospheric sound; in lieu of crossover ballads like “Into My Arms” and “People Ain’t No Good”, we have foggy reveries built upon ominously rumbling bass lines, twitchy rhythmic tics, and hushed-voice intimations. It may not erupt with same force as the Bad Seeds’ stormiest gestures, but the underlying menace fuelling it remains.


2 thoughts on “Nick Cave, “Push the Sky Away” reviews from Sunday Times, BBC, Guardian & Pitchfork

  1. The Independent love it as well (click here for link)…

    Sometimes, less is much, much more: where most bands strive for our attention by being louder, waving their musical semaphore flags frantically, on Push the Sky Away, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds separate themselves out by being less demonstrative, less urgent, less complex. And in doing so, they’ve made their best album, a thoughtful, oceanic work that sucks one in, its hidden currents exerting a subtle but strong undertow.

    The watery metaphor is well chosen. The album is dominated by the sea, with several songs written as observations from Cave’s Brighton study window overlooking the beach, and the music progressing as a series of gently pulsing waves, each song pushing the next forward: it’s an old-style album, intended to be listened to in full, and it’s hard to leave it partway through.

    With the departure of Mick Harvey, the dominant musical character is provided by Cave’s soundtrack collaborator Warren Ellis, whose string drones and keyboard parts establish a brooding mood that perfectly fits the singer’s ruminations on such abiding interests as age and desire and spirit and the infinite flexibility of truth and belief. The guitar, once so prevalent, is here reduced to a supporting role of muted riffs and cyclical arpeggios, while the violin dictates the dramatic textures behind Cave’s narratives.

    There’s a strong element of voyeurism in the songs, Cave variously observing youthful Eros at play in “Wide Lovely Eyes” and “Water’s Edge”, strolling wistfully through the red-light district of “Finishing Jubilee Street”, and contemplating the mythical beauty of “Mermaids”. But at every turn, his roving eye leads him to deeper spiritual considerations, culminating in “Higgs Boson Blues”, a reflection on moral quandary whose shifting focus – from Robert Johnson at the crossroads to Martin Luther King shot in Memphis, to Miley Cyrus in a California pool, to Cave himself nearby the Large Hadron Collider – reflects the corresponding erosion of value imparted by internet-based “truth”.

    These are big themes, dealt with imaginatively by a singer and a band both operating at the peak of their powers. Album of the year?

  2. And Isolation records like it too (click for link)

    For those of us who grew up with and fed upon the Birthday Party, Nick Cave’s solo recordings have not always captured the same place in our hearts and, to be fair, haven’t always merited to do so. The last Bad Seeds album, Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!, released back in 2008, showed a welcome return to grating nastiness after a particularly fallow period and the two Grinderman albums that sandwiched it were pleasingly raucous treats. Now having left that project behind him, Cave has reassembled his Bad Seeds, for the first time without his old Birthday Party colleague Mick Harvey, and has produced an album from completely the other end of the spectrum, possibly the quietest record he has ever made, yet certainly one of the most uncompromising. For Cave here has delineated his boundaries before building the city, allowing him to undertake a careful construction without a single raised hackle, an untamed guitar or a reckless drumbeat. Pieced lyrically around the oddities the singer has trawled from the internet, Cave has melded together some intricate and deeply intelligent verses before layering them over a minimal accompaniment where there is never anything added where it is not needed. Thus the aching flute on the opener ‘We No Who U R’, the text speak a startling contrast to its cute conception; thus the rationed strings on ‘We Real Cool’ or the gorgeous bass on ‘Finishing Jubilee Street’; thus the gentle, mirroring backing vocals that grace the narratives with an evocative beauty. There is a bewitching subtlety of touch throughout; Cave’s voice is as good as it has ever been, his phrasing through even the wordier songs such as ‘Water’s Edge’ is little short of immaculate. And has he ever written a better lyric than ‘Higgs Boson Blues’, touching on a myriad subjects, name checking Robert Johnson and Hannah Montana, throwing out light and dark while darkening light and lightening darkness? “Look, here comes the missionary with his smallpox and flu,” he sings. It’s clever, clever stuff. It’s difficult to comprehend the amount of work that has been put into this record, but Cave can rest assured that his efforts have been worthwhile. Painstakingly built, impressively intelligent and displaying no little beauty, this is a giant of a record; one of the first of its kind in this twenty-first century. Marvel at it.

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