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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Push The Sky Away Luke Turner , February 10th, 2013 11:04

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Recent years have seen messageboards, pop gossip sites and magazines alike indulging in the pursuit of Brighton-based Nick Cave spotting. Nick Cave spotted waving a foam hand at the panto! Nick Cave photographed going to the shops... in jeans! I've always found the levels of incredulity that greet every instance of the Bad Seeds vocalist living a 'normal' life rather odd. Perhaps it's testament to the popularity and strength of the Nick Cave 'character' over the past three decades, but do people really expect the singer to be a real-life incarnation of how he's depicted in Krent Able's satirical Dr Cave cartoon strip, naked, priapic, and riding a baboon?

This rather reductive analysis of Cave also feeds the idea that he's capable of only two main modes of operation - the fallen/firebrand preacher of Southern Gothic rock & roll on one hand, and the tinkler of maudlin ballads at the ol'joanna on the other. That logic dictates that after two albums with the frenzied perverted uncles of Grinderman, we were due a quieter, piano-driven and laid-back Bad Seeds album in the vein of Nocturama or The Boatman's Call.

Push The Sky Away conforms to neither expectation. The first Bad Seeds album written without founder member Mick Harvey, it sees Cave, Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey, Jim Sclavunos and Thomas Wydler exploring a wider range of sonics and textures than we've heard from the band before. As the cover that depicts Cave opening shutters as his wife Susie Bick walks naked across a room in their Brighton home suggests, it is also one of their most intimate and personable albums yet.

Still overshadowed by the memory of fisticuffs between Mods and Rockers or Fatboy Slim's huge parties on the beach, Brighton has recently lacked many prominent records that feel so imbued with a sense of the city. Push The Sky Away redresses this ç that cover photo surely couldn't have been taken anywhere except one of those high ceilinged Regency terraces that go down to the sea in the South Coast resort. The presence of Brighton here must be due to the genesis of many of these songs in a notebook in which Cave noted observations of the world outside those desirable tall windows. 'Waters Edge', with its lyrics of "city girls" who "take their bodies apart for the local boys" and references to Duke's Mound, a popular Brightonian gay cruising area, explore seaside lust - "the will of love/the thrill of love/but the chill of love/is coming on". Driven by Casey's garrulous bass and strings that ebb and flow, it has the atmosphere of drunk and loveless decadence captured by Patrick Hamilton in superlative 1941 novel Hangover Square. Despite a carefree chug and Cave in fine croon, 'Wide Lovely Eyes' is all physical decay ("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") and a swim from which someone might not return, as if the Romantics were doing Reggie Perrin: "You wave and wave your wide lovely eyes/Distant waves and waves of distant love/You wave and say goodbye".

It's tempting to look for geographic clues across the album. Take 'Finishing Jubilee Street', a clever, self-referential tip that heightens the sense we're getting more of Cave the man than Cave the gaudy portrait. It sees him singing "I believe I'd taken a bride called Mary Stanford" - might the name be gleaned from the Rye lifeboat that sank with all hands in the teeth of a gale in November 1928?

Such inquisitiveness at the source material for songs is hard to avoid when we're told that further inspiration for Cave's lyrics lay in "Googling curiosities, being entranced by exotic Wikipedia entries 'whether they're true or not'". Or, as 'We Real Cool' has it, "Wikipedia is heaven/When you don't want to remember anymore". This is where Push The Sky Away really opens up to become an album that embraces both the personal and contemporary hyperreality - in this sense, it's both the most traditional and most modern Bad Seeds album. Most vivid is 'Higgs Boson Blues', where what appears to be a dying man who "can't remember anything any more" leaps in his car to head "down to Geneva" and (presumably) the CERN laboratory. The lurid journey has visions of the devil, blues guitarist Robert Johnson, Miley Cyrus, Hannah Montana travelling from Zulus in Africa to the Amazon, a gifted monkey, and colonialism... "here comes the missionary/with his smallpox and flu." The chaotic imagery is matched by frantic meter "making the hot cocks/in the flophouse bleed/while the cleaning ladies sob into their mops/while a bellhop hops and bops". Like a vague Wikipedia entry, it's a song that permits a few interpretations - a battle between faith and reason, modernity's glut of information ("let the dam break"), or the memoir of a fevered, broken mind.

Perhaps it's the impact of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' work on film scores such as The Proposition and The Road, but the command of space and dynamic in the music heightens the lyrical impact. This might be quieter than Grinderman's randy garage hectoring, but these songs still hum with latent power. 'Jubilee Street' (one of the Bad Seeds' finest tracks of recent years) and 'Higgs Boson Blues' especially transfer well to the live setting, building with as much luxurious pomp as anything from the Bad Seeds canon. Although the piano features throughout, it's never the lead instrument, while guitar is often used as a scratchy texture, such as on 'Mermaids'. Meanwhile, the air and space around the clopping percussion and quiet groove of 'Finishing Jubilee Street' suggests the unusual sticky heat of a beach of stones, and on 'We Real Cool' the same technique gives a sense of impending doom around the rumbling bass. The closing title track, meanwhile, is like nothing else we've heard from the band before, a space age electronic drone and the occasional boom of a drum. It's a haunting ending, an unusual twist.

Both Grinderman and last Bad Seeds album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! showed sides to Nick Cave that had previously been obscure, among them a sense of humour often directed at himself that the cliché of the vampiric goth crow never allowed. Perhaps caught up in perceptions of what this group and singer ought to be about, some have baulked at the idea of a Wikipedia-inspired album of more reflective songs. To do so is a mistake, for Push The Sky Away is another silver bullet through the heart of that old caricature. Cave is always the first to give fulsome credit to his band, and they aim true here in the most explorative, coherent and well-realised Bad Seeds album in years. It's not often you get to say this about a group on their 15th record, but it'll be fascinating to see where they go next.


Feb 10, 2013 6:23pm

Looking forward to this album but equally, long live Krent Able.

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Feb 11, 2013 11:40am

Another Nick Cave album that ceases to have anything to say,how much longer are we to indulge Cave and his bourgeois phoney angst musings?
Its become a formulaic perennial conveyerbelt of plaintive introspection and meaningless rawkus tired rock cliches

Why release this diluted going through the motions pap? if you've got nothing to say why bother?
I listened to it once and smashed it against the wall,why would i want to listen to this vapid self indulgent middle class Brighton fucking shit?
The cover hints at the emptiness of the content and Caves insipid risible latterday product
Stick to shopping in Waitrose Nick in your nice jeans,i no longer wish to pay for your tasty ready meals anymore

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Michael E.
Feb 11, 2013 11:54am

After listening to the album on npr.org and falling in love with two songs immedately (the opening song and "Finishing Jubilee Street") and knowing there's still much to discover, I read this review which is offering that kind of freshness and intellence that will make this album a long-time companion. And it'a right: the two sides of Nick Cave are hanging together here: the ballads (far away from the business-as-usual kind of endless repetitions) and the raw energy (that can be felt on lots of places in these songs, as a power and a menace that could explode ever moment, so to speak).

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Feb 11, 2013 12:08pm

err, the cover was shot in French recording studio, and I don't think it's his wife pictured.

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MB
Feb 11, 2013 12:11pm

In reply to :

Not according to Nick Cave - he said in an interview (possibly on 6 music?) that the picture is of his wife, and was taken in his bedroom.

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Michael E.
Feb 11, 2013 12:11pm

In reply to :

Mr. Anonymous! Always interesting to see someone coming along with a wholly different perception. I'm not a follower or fan, and there have been records of The Seeds I didn't like too much. I even didn't like his Murder Ballads, and even the highly praised Boatman's Call is not my cup of Darjeeling first flush. But Nocturama is!

So, the new one is brilliant in some ways, and not the usual "procedere". The musical textures are rich and beyond well-trodden paths.

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Carpathian
Feb 11, 2013 12:22pm

I've no idea how anybody (yes, I mean you Mr/Mrs/Miss Anonymous) could take this album as any sort of business as usual in the Bad Seeds camp. I've not heard them sound so refreshed and vital for a good few releases. The space in the music is crackling with intent and the lyrics are wonderfully evocative & yet just obtuse enough to intrigue. Off the back of a handful of listens it is indeed up there with Old Nick & Co's best efforts to date. Couldn't be happier or, thankfully, more pleasantly surprised with where they've pushed their sound.

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Chris
Feb 11, 2013 12:37pm

"showed sides to Nick Cave that had previously been obscure, among them a sense of humour" Nick Caves work has always contained humour, even from the very early days of the birthday party - so your way off the mark there fella.

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Feb 11, 2013 12:54pm

In reply to MB:

i don't believe him

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Luke Turner
Feb 11, 2013 1:02pm

In reply to Chris:

...er of course, they've often been utterly hilarious. I think (as it says) he was perhaps previously less inclined to laugh at himself.

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James Elliott
Feb 11, 2013 9:21pm

In reply to MB:

Err, you are wrong on both counts. It is Brighton and it is his wife. Unless of course he was lying when interviewed on BBC 6 music recently.

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Feb 12, 2013 8:52am

In reply to James Elliott:

i think he was lying, yes.

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Luke Turner
Feb 12, 2013 10:37am

In reply to :

I'd be pretty impressed if he was lying... that would be a neat trick on the album being about "Googling curiosities, being entranced by exotic Wikipedia entries 'whether they're true or not'". Devious misinformation.

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Feb 12, 2013 10:43am

In reply to Luke Turner:

yeah definitely. thing is, the street where he lives has nothing like those kind of windows on it....

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nick
Feb 12, 2013 12:03pm

In reply to :

stalker

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nick
Feb 12, 2013 12:04pm

personally, i absolutely cannot wait for this album to come out. the 2 singles sound superbly rich, a striking contrast from the guitar-driven brashness of dig lazarus: there's no way you can accuse them of going over previously-trodden territory here.

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Feb 12, 2013 12:35pm

In reply to nick:

ha. sort of yeah. he used to live near me, then he moved, shortly after he crashed his car into a speed camera. now he lives in the same row of houses as my friend. apparently he walks his dog with his wife a lot. some kind of long sausage thing (the dog).

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Michael E
Feb 12, 2013 2:03pm

In reply to :

You really seem to be more of a short sausage thing, right, Annymous?!

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john p.
Feb 12, 2013 4:46pm

Nick Cave walking a dog... my o my, where is this world going to?

This new album doesn't do it for me at all. The production is nice there are some interesting sounds here and there, but the whole thing drags along in the same slow tempo and most of the songs lack good melodies. More routine than inspiration?

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Rooksby
Feb 12, 2013 9:00pm

Look, I'm really sorry, but I've listened to this album twice now & am convinced it would sound a lot better if Old Nick wasn't groaning over the top of it. Apologies, etc.

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Feb 13, 2013 9:04am

In reply to Michael E :

no, i'm more of a pointer type. Steve.

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Feb 13, 2013 12:39pm

In reply to :

wait, is that a penis joke?

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Michael E
Feb 13, 2013 1:22pm

Not a penis joke, I think. Just had a look at the photo of an English pointer. Oh, my goodness. All best wishes for your future, Steve.

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Feb 13, 2013 1:33pm

In reply to Michael E :

i feed it well, mind.

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Stagger Lee
Feb 15, 2013 1:28pm

well look, it's not his best album, although it would be absurd to expect him to do that with every release. But it's still a great album. To me, the sole dud in his entire career is Nocturama, which mostly sucks. And to discount Dig Lazarus Dig from Cave albums worth hearing is just nonsense

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Chad
Mar 1, 2013 2:31am

Strange how some seek out a message board to state how they don't like it..

'Another Nick Cave album that ceases to have anything to say,how much longer are we to indulge Cave and his bourgeois phoney angst musings?
Its become a formulaic perennial conveyerbelt of plaintive introspection and meaningless rawkus tired rock cliches

Why release this diluted going through the motions pap? if you've got nothing to say why bother?
I listened to it once and smashed it against the wall,why would i want to listen to this vapid self indulgent middle class Brighton fucking shit?
The cover hints at the emptiness of the content and Caves insipid risible latterday product
Stick to shopping in Waitrose Nick in your nice jeans,i no longer wish to pay for your tasty ready meals anymore'

LOL, okay dude that doesn't even leave a name. You manage to be more pretentious than any lyric I've ever read, and all the more sad and hopeless since I'm probably the only one who read it.

No matter how bad your life is, at least you're not posting babble about a musician you don't care about like this fuckhead.

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Old Sam
Mar 1, 2013 2:39am

People who don't like this album are dumb. Strait up, dumb as a pile of rocks. Like rocks dumb people will drag you down, till you're typing about stuff you don't like and believing the internet gives a shit like some of the morons here.

Thanks to Nick Cave and crew for making a mature album for smart people.

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SlushaBoy
Mar 6, 2013 7:56pm

It's not a good time to be in the Rock and Roll business. The Alternative 90's are long gone and even the post-period of the 00's have bitten the dust. Now, in the age of disbelief, it's uncommonly hard for these artists to retain their credibility. Patti Smith and R.E.M. have released albums so bad that it's even affected my view of their earlier work. Nick Cave, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Bob Dylan all keep chugging on to a relative yawn to all but over-caffeinated rock journalists on the blog-o-sphere. In my view, only Neil Young, and perhaps Leonard Cohen, have retained any semblance of dignity, perhaps because both are wedded to their guitar and poetry respectively, rather than any preconceived "image" or brand that they keep dragging out for a run around the block every 2 years or so. I was momentarily affected by the single "Jubilee Street", only to fall back quickly to my nonplussed state upon realizing that the climax was completely copped from Patti Smith's Easter. The problem with me came mostly with the lyrics,- pretentious poetic rambling, too oblique to be effective. Well, to each their own. I hope Nick takes the money he makes off this record to go live in Prague for a few months to wander the streets alone at 3 AM to get a taste of that real artistic life and reinvigorate himself for his next offering. Until then...

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carry
Jan 29, 2014 7:06am

I agree with marcus and Tim. Nick hasnt been worth listening to for a long time, not since the Boatman's Call for me.

The other comments look like they're have been written by an agency working for Cave's record company.

Its common practice that firms are hired to have people buoy up poor reviewes or comments with positive ones. Supposedly one third of the comments are generated this way on the net.

Regardless, Nick has lost his literary ability, his energy, and any kind of musical direction or impetus. Some artists still creat strong work when theyre older. Nick hasnt.

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