The first time I heard Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, it was on Abbatoir Blues/Lyre Of Orpheus. It’s hard to not find a lot of joy in that set of songs, especially when it starts with a song like “Get Ready For Love”, a massive, booming track that hits you in the face with a wall of noise almost immediately. I never got around to going backwards with Cave’s music, and as a result, I’m not aware of his stylistic shifts. It’s also hard to not love that album’s follow-up, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, a glitzy and glamorous concept record about the biblical Lazarus, brought back to life in 1970s New York City. For all intents and purposes, these are two very big sounding records, because a talent like Cave needs a lot of room to sprawl out.
It’s ridiculous to talk about “maturity” with a record like this, because Push The Sky Away is the 15th Bad Seeds record, and Cave’s 20th overall if you include Grinderman and The Birthday Party, but there’s something about this record that feels like an attempt at establish a new sound. Cave just turned 55, and has been making music for almost all of that. Though he’s never been on the cutting edge, he’s always been a reliable musician, who doesn’t quite feel like he has the capability to make music that people dislike.
It’s clear from the minute “We No Who U Are” starts up that something is different this time around, on Push The Sky Away. Cave never comes far above a low roar, even in the chorus, which is almost cooed. One of the first things that sticks out is that everything sounds so polished. It’s a beautiful sounding record, and proves to be a fine album to listen to, end on end, in your headphones. There’s a strange intimacy here, and somehow this is heightened listening in this way. Where Cave has previously been a man who’s swagger is almost audible, on Push The Sky Away, you can’t help but picture him sitting alone in a studio for all of this.
This record is, a lot of the time, a gothic tangle of tension and incredible imagery, and there isn’t a song on here that doesn’t feel like a lesson in masterclass storytelling. This swings wildly from “Jubilee Street” and its prostitute/pariah main character, or the unwavering belief in what we don’t see on “Mermaids”: “I believe in god, I believe in mermaids, too .” The latter example is a song that is delicate and beautiful enough to make you completely ignore a line like “I was the match that would fire up her snatch.” That’s a real task. Somehow, in his songwriting abilities, he’s made it possible to namedrop Miley Cyrus, Hannah Montana, and Wikipedia without blinking, and as such, you end up hearing it and thinking, “Wait, why?” and then just as quickly accepting it. There’s even “Finishing Jubilee Street,” in which Cave sings about… finishing writing “Jubilee Street”, and having a vivid dream. Should these things work? Probably not, but they do. And that’s a mark of a talented musician. All the while, his voice remains low and gruff, like the spiritual offspring of both Lou Reed and Johnny Cash. It isn’t until “Higgs Boson Blues” that he even lets his voice take off very much, and at that point, its been long enough that it’s almost shocking to hear (even if his trademark growl never surfaces).
A bigger fan than myself might question the sounds of Push the Sky Away, not really realizing that they are a band that knows what they’re doing, and it is pointless to try and question it. It could be a blip in the spectrum for Bad Seeds, considering how strikingly reserved everything is, or it could be a permanent change of direction. They are a band that manages to do a lot of things exceedingly well, and though it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this record is so strikingly great. In short: learn to love this record.