Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away LP

I suppose there is a broadly applied curiosity towards anybody releasing their fifteenth studio album in their band’s thirtieth year: that is, what creative fuel can there be left in the tank? There is always the risk with any veteran musician that they can be accused of trading on nothing more than the memories of former glories – a glance at the Rolling Stones ungraceful transformation into dusty relics of their former selves is one such example – and many Bad Seeds fans could have been forgiven for expecting a similar pattern of decline to ensue following the departure of founding member Blixa Bargeld in 2003 – but that was ten years ago. Cave and his troupe moved on in an impressive manner and, amongst other things, the raw and deliciously lurid Grinderman project demonstrated that his powers of innovation still held sway.
In contrast to that project, however, Push the Sky Away is an introspective record, demonstrative the reflective manner you would expect a man of Cave’s 55 years to have developed. Thematically, it perhaps feels closest to his love-songs penned in the early throes of the new millennium. The difference here however, is that Cave has accepted that he is no longer a strutting contributor to stories of young romance, but is looking on from afar at those that have taken his place – “the local boys growing hard, hard to be heard as they reach for the speech,” he sings on ‘Water’s Edge’, almost certainly a reference to his Brighton home where the “young lovers” meet on the beach.

Indeed, if Cave here is portraying love as a young man’s game – a battleground chorused by carnal crows for attention, rewarded with the hearts of “the city girls” – his voice of experience tempers the scene as he warns: “it’s the thrill of love/ah, but the chill of love is coming on.” Do not fear though, Push the Sky Away is not merely some collection of gloom-ridden recounts – not at all. ‘Wide Lovely Eyes’ is a sepia-tinged work of hushed, romantic beauty (“Step on the beach beneath the iron skies/ you wave and wave your wide lovely eyes), although the ‘waving’ of Cave’s enchanting subject suggests that the narrative is still being written at a distance, be that literally through the window or in a dusty cupboard housing fond memories.
The distinctive talents of Warren Ellis ensure that the record as a whole is tied together by consistently enamouring musicianship, from the entrancing tumble of opener ‘We No Who U R’ to the cathedral-by-candlelight haunt of the title track at the album’s close. It is unlikely that Push the Sky Away will go down as the epitome of the Bad Seeds’ careers, but it’s tender, misty-eyed reflections feel sincere enough – and quite simply good enough – to ensure that it will one day be remembered fondly as one of Cave’s finest works.
Words by Lewis Parker

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