Many of you may know about Nick Cave and all of his exploits. The film trivia fiends will recognize his name as the pen that not only wrote the screenplay for Lawless (2012) but also contributed to the film’s score. Others have been following him since the goth pioneer days of The Birthday Party, before parts of the band disassembled and realigned itself as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in 1984. Nick Cave has kept himself in a relatively constant hustle since then with other projects such as Grinderman, the books he has published, the Doctorate of Letters he received from the University of Brighton, and much more.
To everyone else who isn’t as well-versed in the canon of Nick Cave, let me say this: do not, I repeat, do not snuff this album after the first listen. Or while listening during the first song. You’ll be missing something great. Especially if you’re listening to something like Justin Timberlake beforehand. Let this album simmer. (Can I be blamed for still being in love with Justin’s “Suit & Tie” when I popped Nick Cave’s CD into my car? No, no I can’t. That being said, hopefully you didn’t make the same mistake I did.)
Push the Sky Away, the band’s 15th studio album, does feel a bit stripped down. In comparison, this album is more subdued than their 2008 album Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The tumultuous nature of Nick Cave’s writing is still very much in the framework of the music, but the band have given themselves more room to breathe this time around. The resulting minimalistic vibe to the album, as luck would have it, allows the NME-acclaimed “king of gothic lushness” to reign free.
The lushness doesn’t come from having everything overproduced or accompanied by a full-sized string orchestra (though the effective use of strings throughout Pushing the Sky Away must be noted). There is a certain kind of chemistry in the interaction between Nick’s earthy voice and the shimmering backdrop of chiming chords as “We Know Who U R” starts the album off. Subtle changes in instrumentation knead their way into the music as each song progresses. The mix is masterfully adept at holding Nick’s voice as the centre of attention while keeping the band’s performance dancing around the lyrics.
The order of the album’s set list keeps in mind the importance of ebb and flow. “Wide Lovely Eyes” sounds uplifting, which breaks the tension from the opening track, but you can’t help but question the deeper meaning of every word Nick Cave sings when lines such as “They’ve dismantled the fun fair and they’ve shut down the rides / And they’ve hung the mermaids from the street lights by their hair”. These vivid scenes are painted by the music and lyrics that sprung from the 12 month-old notebook which Cave carried around that contained the seeds for what we now hear as Push the Sky Away.
The biting nature of the band’s works is more apparent in “The Water’s Edge” and “We Real Cool”, where images of lurking shadows within men and monsters become the songs’ source of power. In other songs, like “Jubilee Street” or “Push the Sky Away”, there’s a need to get a few listens under your belt before you really get a solid feel on the song’s message.
Take “Higgs Boson Blues” for example. That song took me more time than any other track on the album to digest, but has become one of my favourites. This eight-minute-long blues track croons and caws with post-apocalyptic lament at men who are left paying the cost of progress while aspiring for their lofty ideals, all while the band “rings out to a spiritual groove”. That’s my own personal take on the song after a few weeks of sitting on it.
The point is that this album might take a bit of work for one to really be able to reap its benefits. But no one’s saying that all this work has to be done in one night. Push the Sky Away is a beautiful album that reveals itself to you in waves. The longer you let this album simmer within you, the more you get to understand the larger picture Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are trying to show you.