[sic] Magazine

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave has always been about wild contrasts. Recall that after the brutal Murder Ballads came the most beautiful Bad Seeds record, the gorgeously meditative Boatman’s Call . Setting aside the naked aggression of the Grinderman records, the Bad Seeds’ last full album was 2008’s electrifying whacked-out blues of Dig Lazarus Dig so there is a quiet inevitably that the great man will take a tangential turn.

Coming in the shape of the 15th studio album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away sees him return with a melancholy beast that is contemplative and measured. This is not the fiery Nick Cave, but the one who reflects on the human condition and uses the sea as a metaphor for a cast of subjects leading to the production of a stunning album, which is as quietly powerful as anything they have done to date.

The departure of Mick Harvey has impacted and into the vacuum he has left steps Cave’s soundtrack collaborator Warren Ellis , whose slow instrumentation and ghostly keyboard parts establish an ominous, often soured, mood.

The nine songs here range from the gently rolling ‘We No Who U R’, which oozes a sultry almost Portishead -style atmosphere, to the album’s absolute standout of the near-eight-minute ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ – so wasted it could have been happily located within the grooves of Neil Young ‘s On The Beach . It’s a burningly strung out powerhouse saga that name checks an eclectic list that includes Robert Johnson , the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis, Hannah Montana and Milly Cyrus . When at one point Cave sings “Well here comes Lucifer/With his canon law, And a hundred black babies runnin’ from his genocidal jaw/He got the real killer groove” it is almost scary.

In between, there are great songs like ‘Wide Lovely Eyes’. Its scratchy guitar backdrop and ocean motifs witness Cave heading “ Down the tunnel that leads to the sea/Step on the beach beneath the iron skies “. The threatening ‘Waters Edge’ continues the aquatic theme as Cave watches the mating game of young local boys with the “ thrill of love ” for the girls from “ the capital “. Yet all that Cave can do is ruefully reflect that “ But you grow old and you grow cold “.

‘Jubilee Street’ is perhaps the most superficially conventional song in the set, yet its lyrics tell a harsh tale of a red light district where Cave throws out brilliant images of a man who states that “I am alone now, I am beyond recriminations” as the song builds to a huge conclusion. The waves returns with ‘Mermaids’ – a superb haunting ballad and one of the most gorgeous things that Cage has committed to vinyl. This is juxtaposed by the talking, dark blues of ‘We Are Cool’ with its pulsating bass line, and the return of an earlier theme in the rather odd ‘Finishing Jubilee Street’ where Cave reflects on the experience of writing the previous song. The album is capped by the undiluted beauty of the almost church-like title track, a dark hymn where Cave reflects and painfully questions what “If you’re feeling/You’ve got everything you came for/If you got everything /And you don’t want no more” .

Cave is now one of the great modern renaissance men. His ventures into films, books, writing and music are all defined by a vision, which is deeply intriguing, and utterly compelling. In Push The Sky Away he has recorded one of his best albums since Boatman’s Call . It begs the question whether it is the best album of 2013 thus far? And the answer is that there is no contest.