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Album Review
Push The Sky Away

Push The Sky Away
by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Bad Seeds Ltd

Review Date
11th March 2013
Reviewed by
Claire Duncan

If Nick Cave and his ever-fruitful Bad Seeds lived in a house, it would be a many-turreted castle, each old stone room replete with its own private display of freakishness and tragedy. Fourteen albums deep and half a decade since the Southern-gothic-epic rock extravaganza of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! we are invited into a fifteenth room – a record that arches from beginning to end with a majestic command, each song embraced with sonic delicacy; imbued with careful attention to texture.

A subtle and emotionally complex album, Push the Sky Away recalls the sparseness and mood of The Boatman's Call and the charged lyrical imagery of Your Funeral... My Trial. The fragile flourishes of Warren Ellis are evident throughout in the intuitively processed programming, loops, drawn out climaxes and innovative instrumentation. His mark is clear from the get-go with the tinny drum beat and a creature-like flute that pulses threateningly throughout ‘We Know Who U R’.

Cave's long-time gothic concerns are resurrected, although with Push the Sky Away it seems his decay of choice is roaming a small seaside town. It's hard to not think of Brighton (Cave's current locale) and its pier choked with outdated fairground rides upon hearing Cave describe a scene of seaside carnival deflation: “They've dismantled the fun fair and they've shut down the rides” (‘Wide Lovely Eyes’). Portraits of decay continue with 'Jubilee Street' (named after one in Brighton), although it is given a human slant in the form of a girl named Bee: “She had a history, but no past /When they shut her down”. A meandering guitar riff drives the song along in that uniquely great way that betters with repetition, making its six-and-half minutes feel much more brief.

Oceanic concerns surface with 'Mermaids' in an extended observational moment that culminates in a chorus strangely at odds with the simple rhymes and ideas conflicting the epic with the ordinary ("I do husband alertness course / I do mermaid alertness course"). Cave's trademark screwball humour is ever-present through the album and shakes any earnest residue of from the songs – "I was the match that would fire up her snatch" ('Mermaids').

Juxtaposing intimate human emotion with existential ideas is something Cave has long done well, and again conquers here. A natural gothic beauty parallels an explosion of rich, bloated nonsense, relieved by carefully placed pockets of abstract emotion. The climactic track, Higgs-Boson Blues, sees this mastery work to great effect: 'If I die tonight, bury me/ In my favorite yellow patent leather shoes/ With a mummified cat and a cone-like hat/ That the caliphate forced on the Jews/ Can you feel my heartbeat?' His trademark screwball humour is ever-present through the album and shakes any earnest residue of from the songs – “I was the match that would fire up her snatch” (‘Mermaids’).

The album is teeming with characters, fictional and real: A girl named Bee, Mary Stanford, mermaids generally, Robert Johnson, Lucifer, Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus floating in a swimming pool. (The two are curiously referenced as two distinct individuals. Cave recently surmised that Miley may in fact even be floating on a lilo.) Cave speaks of, for and above these characters at different times. Like a twisted modern-day bard, his voice bulges with experiences both personal and vicarious, hybridised images of people and places real and imagined to create some kind of many-limbed mutant that lumbers around in circles with a crooked brand of grace.

The album's closing title-track is a powerful bookend response to the opener. Over a wash of organ Cave warbles some of the most sentimental lyrics he's every written: 'You've got to just keep on pushing... push the sky away'. It is, nonetheless, a powerful refrain and when a faceless collection of plaintive childish voices chimes in, it almost seems to propose a message of strength for all of the Bad Seeds' mutant characters, and perhaps a reaction against their own glass ceiling, which they have just blown out yet again nearly three decades after their first album.


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