Push the Sky Away, by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Suggested by Simon Rodway
When people fail to conform to your preconceptions, it’s confusing.
Let’s take Nick Cave. In truth, I know little of him and his work, but that’s fine, because people are apparently sick of experts. I know he’s Australian, I know he’s pale, and I know a red right handful of his songs, residing in my memory banks where the wild roses grow. What I do have, in place of actual factual verifiable knowledge, is a sure-fire image of what Nick Cave is.
Nick Cave is brooding. Nick Cave is intellectual. Nick Cave is dark. Nick Cave is acclaimed. I’ve similar soundbites about his music, again formed through some form of cultural osmosis and not through anything as tawdry as actual listening. Nick Cave’s music is oppressive. Nick Cave’s music is disquieting. Nick Cave’s music is mournful. Nick Cave’s music is nightmarish, gothic, bruising
Whether I’m correct or not is entirely beside the point. These are simply the tapestry of “facts” at my disposal as I head into Push the Sky Away, the band’s fifteenth studio release.
Immediately, my initial notions are brought into question. Rather than dark, oppressive and brooding, the opening tracks We No Who U R and Wide Lovely Eyes are breezy, laid back, almost sparse affairs. In fact, this is a motif that’s rife throughout the entire piece. There’s more space between the music than I expected, and Nick’s vocal is smoky and laid back, weary, almost bone-tired. There’s a lot less guitar than I imagined, and a reliance on more nuanced and layered instrumentation that defies my layman’s descriptive toolset. Lyrically, there’s stuff going on for sure, and a confusing quirkiness that I suspect is Cave’s bread and butter.
The tracks, I feel, do their level best to present as organic, swelling affairs, eschewing a more considered structure. This is to the album’s detriment, as the whole effect is rather meandering. The clearest example of this is in the third track, the swirling and hypnotic Water’s Edge. It appears elsewhere too, such as in the organ pomp of the title track that rounds out the album, and even in the otherwise excellent Higgs Boson Blues, but if I’m honest, while I’m charmed by the initial ideas as each track presents, I am rolling my eyes and looking at my watch as these almost funerial dirges wheeze themselves to a swollen and turgid completion. My favourite track is Jubilee Street, as that’s the most successful build from a humble beginning to a sizeable exit.
As the album progresses, its reflective nature does take on a disconcerting tone, which may be to do with the quality of Nick Cave’s vocal. Even when acting against type, it sounds like Nick can’t quite excise all traces of downbeat discordant unease. Strangely, I find that affirming, as if my initial ideas about Nick were actually correct, but in hiding for this particular album.
Overall, I’d offer Push the Sky Away a measured 5/10. It wasn’t what I expected, or what I believed I knew about Nick Cave’s work. But I guess that’s a boon, as who wants to be predictable?