By J Howell
Speaking about Push The Sky Away out of the context of Nick Cave‘s impressive and prolific body of work thus far is a bit difficult, but the Bad Seeds’ 15th album deserves to be taken on its own terms.
When a longtime friend posted a Cave-related link on Facebook, I mentioned that I’d received a review copy and was listening to it just then. This started (another) discussion about vintage versus newer Bad Seeds albums, a not-infrequent topic of conversation between myself and said friend, who holds Henry’s Dream-era Cave as the Seeds at the height of their powers.
A couple of songs in, I commented that, while the record was pleasant so far, it felt subdued—my exact words at the time were, “It’s good, but it’s like Abbatoir Blues took its antidepressants, which were just enough to make it not angry.” Especially coming off the heels of Cave’s recent, ferocious Grinderman records, Push The Sky Away, at least initially, comes across as perhaps just a bit soft. Which is, as it turns out, ultimately complete bullshit.
Or not, depending on one’s perspective and expectations. I’m of the mind that, while it takes a few listens for its full impact to be felt, Push The Sky Away is a beautiful record that holds up against any of Cave and the Bad Seeds’ other work, or anyone else’s.
Fans from way back who may be a bit stuck on Cave as a morose or violent storyteller will likely be disappointed. Longtime fans willing to follow where Cave leads as a still-relevant, continually developing artist will find Push The Sky Away an earnest, rewarding, and inspiring record. It is in many ways closest to Abbatoir Blues in terms of feel and general subject matter.
There’s an awful lot of discomfort with post-everything life in the modern first world throughout both records, though this most recent album is, at least superficially, significantly less aggressive overall. Where Abbatoir Blues boils over in places, Push The Sky Away simmers throughout. While it may be lost on those who haven’t been there, it’s worth mentioning that this record strongly evokes place in a way that the Bad Seeds’ work never quite has before. Cave’s longtime home of Brighton, England is palpable throughout Push The Sky Away. There’s something lovely—if slightly muted—about the seaside town as well as this record.
There’s still menace below the surface of songs like “We No Who U R,” “Water’s Edge,” “Jubilee Street,” and “We Real Cool,” all of which are compelling even if they tend to whisper rather than shout, and are far less harrowing than Cave at his most brutal. Where Push The Sky Away is most brilliant, however, is often in more vulnerable moments, in disarmingly frank love songs like “Wide Lovely Eyes” and “Mermaids.” “Higgs Boson Blues” connects the dots between the astounding profundity of the promise of modern science, vacuous indifference at that promise, the Devil and Robert Johnson, the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., and—seriously—Miley Cyrus. Amazingly, if somewhat unsurprisingly from a writer of Cave’s caliber, the song works at least as smartly as “We Call Upon The Author.”
While at least some of Push The Sky Away is concerned with the problems of apathy and rampant idiocy in modern life, the record holds some of Cave’s most uplifting moments. The closing title track in particular is almost a mantra of perseverance, hanging on to one’s self and one’s soul in the face of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the otherwise. While it may be a bit of a bold statement from a veteran Nick Cave fan, I’m inclined to say that “Push The Sky Away” just may be my favorite Bad Seeds song so far. That connection may ultimately be revelatory in regard to which Cave fans will get the most from this album: those of us who relate to these songs will find an extraordinary amount of beauty and resolve here.
Push The Sky Away was released February 19 from Bad Seed Ltd. and is available to order from NickCave.com.