(Bad Seed, Ltd., 2013)
(Image from Wikipedia)
Mr. Cave is back with another reading from his horrorshow tome. Though his songs have become less overtly macabre and hellish than they were in the Bad Seeds’ earlier days, there’s no doubt that Nick Cave can send a chill down your spine like he was ringin’ a bell. On Push the Sky Away, it seems that fear and sin are less the orders of the day than tension and queasiness. There’s nothing relaxed or laid back here – every track is bent double, sitting on the edge, waiting for a release that usually doesn’t come. They just go on, like little snapshots from an ongoing, frustrated life. “Nowhere to rest/nowhere to land” croons Cave in “We No Who U R”.
Cave is, obviously, the master of ceremonies here. Very seldom does he let himself boil over into throwing vitriol – he just presents the facts as they are (to him) in a low moan that has you already mourning. “Ah, the local boys” he reminisces during “Water’s Edge” (the highlight of the album for me), recounting their horrible encounters with the “girls from the capital” in a delicious use of repetition as both parties “reach for the speech/and the word to be heard”, as drummer Thomas Wydler unleashes some inner fury, contributing only sporadic, arrhythmic fits and refusing deliciously to hold down any kind of beat. The only time he breaks his icy resoluteness is on “Higgs-Boson Blues”, which is by no coincidence the longest song on the album. It’s the only one long enough to give Cave the chance to boil over and when he finally loses the game of chicken he’s playing to keep his composure to the end of the song and starts spewing his own unique brand of dark inanities: “Hannah Montana does the African Savannah/As the simulated rainy season begins/She curses the queue at the Zulus/And moves on to Amazonia/And cries with the dolphins.”
Apart from that track, there aren’t too many that could be called rockers on this album. The moods are groovy, often quiet as if holding onto a secret that they’ll only allow themselves to get a few chords into before smiling and wagging a finger. The fuzzy electric piano is Cave’s weapon of choice here, plunking down sharp, shuddering chords (“We No Who U R”) or meandering between harmony and melody (“Wide Lovely Eyes”), while Warren Ellis’ guitar stays rhythmic and brooding without ever unleashing its considerable power. Almost everything is played in a percussive capacity, creating a nice melange in every bar of a variety of timbres popping and cracking right on queue. The occasional flute (“We No Who U R”) or string section (“We Real Cool”) glides right on top.
Push the Sky Away is a great example of Cave’s potency. As his career has progressed, he’s become less interested jumping out in front of you, casting fire and brimstone in your face while laughing, and more apt to point out the devil sneaking up behind you as you pass the tip of his lit cigarette in a dark alley. At first listen, this album seems like a relatively sedate affair, but constantly walks the line between haunting and creepy. Even the simplest arrangements have no way to earn good will here. Cave muses aloud and we crane our necks to listen, in spite of the fact that we likely don’t want to hear it.