Sunday, 17 February 2013

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - 'Push The Sky Away'

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Push The Sky Away
Bad Seed Ltd. (BS001CD)

Some five years on from the last Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album, 'Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!', and three years after the second and final studio album from Grinderman - a short-lived, smaller scale Bad Seeds side project - the band return with their new release 'Push The Sky Away'. It's a record which comes in stark contrast to its predecessors; 'Dig…' and the two eponymously titled Grinderman albums were raucous, psychedelic garage-infused rock records, and one could've been forgiven for thinking that Cave had abandoned the more restrained, mellow and, at times, very tender stylings of his millennial output in favour of the sheer volume and general badassery of his more 'classic' era. Not so.

Musically speaking, 'Push The Sky Away' has more in common with the sombre 'The Boatman's Call', and perhaps 'No More Shall We Part' than with Cave's more recent works. The songs here are, for the most part, sedate and low key. This is not to say that the album is short on thrills; it simply demands the attention of the listener so that he or she can fully appreciate its various subtleties, whereas songs like 'No Pussy Blues' mercilessly forced their way into the listener's conscience.

Reportedly, the majority of the composition for the record took place in the studio, with the whole band working together on Cave's half-formed ideas, and transforming them into full band performances. This approach has not been 100% successful, as a couple of the songs here are somewhat underwhelming and perhaps underdeveloped, such as 'Wide Lovely Eyes'. However, when it works, it works superbly. A prime example of this comes at the climax of the album, with the 8-minute 'Higgs Boson Blues'. It has to be said, the song bears a strong resemblance to Neil Young's 'On The Beach', but despite - or perhaps because of - its world-weariness, it's still able to transcend the senses and leave an impression, sinking its anchor directly into that mysterious part of the human psyche where music is truly felt.

The influence of Dirty Three member and longtime Bad Seed Warren Ellis should not be overlooked; his loops are peppered throughout the entire work, and along with his lyrical violin arrangements, they really help to build the strong atmosphere which permeates much of the material here. These elements, in conjunction with Martyn P. Casey's ominous, rumbling basslines on the likes of 'Water's Edge' and 'We Real Cool', are reminiscent of Ellis and Cave's evocative soundtrack work, particularly for the 2005 John Hillcoat film 'The Proposition'.

'Jubilee Street' is the album's standout, though; it's a lengthy, weighty track, based on a simple four-chord pattern, which gradually builds and culminates in a wash of screaming violins and haunting, wordless vocals, while the song's unmistakable groove struts its way through the noise. However, as is so often the case with Nick Cave, it's the lyrics which truly shine. Via a gripping narrative, Cave delivers a very modern social commentary which depicts the grim and gritty reality bubbling beneath the 'bread and circuses' fa├žade of contemporary life.

As Nick Cave's prolific and chameleonic career takes another turn, the 55 year-old - with a voice which has noticeably matured since the last Bad Seeds outing - shows on 'Push The Sky Away' that he still very much has his finger on the pulse. Whereas, in the past, Cave has relied on gothic Americana, love and death for inspiration, he now increasingly displays a defined social conscience. Lyrical references to Wikipedia, Hannah Montana and the Higgs boson may be a far cry from the blues-tinged, Old Testament themes of old, but they are certainly not in any way contrived. This is a sickeningly intelligent man continually striving to make music fit for the chaotic world in which he resides. Long may it continue.

'Push The Sky Away' is released on 18th February.

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