Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Push The Sky Away (2013)

B+

1. We No Who U R 2. Wide Lovely Eyes 3. Water’s Edge 4. Jubilee Street 5. Mermaids 6. We Real Cool 7. Finishing Jubilee Street 8. Higgs Boson Blues 9. Push The Sky Away

 

I don’t usually do film reviews but I saw a terrible movie yesterday. Just awful. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is apparently based on a popular novel for young adults and stars Hermione Granger and this guy I used to sing with in the Metropolitan Opera (seriously, I’m not making that up). Now, if it’s well done, I’ll watch an indie movie where the characters go on emotional coming of age journeys and learn things about themselves and others (I love Juno, for instance. Hell, I even like Garden State!). But this was just the most heinously pretentious, predictable bullcrap ever. I watched an episode of the Canadian soap opera Degrassi later that night and found it more insightful and realistic in its handling of teen drama than this movie. The dialogue was cringe inducing throughout – largely a series of heartfelt, “profound” conversations that real people don’t have in real life. In certain scenes I found myself formulating in my mind what the most ludicrous and melodramatic thing a given character might say in that situation might be, and then being astounded and chuckling incredulously when they actually said something along those lines (examples: “Why can’t you save anyone?” “We accept the love we feel we deserve”). There’s also the fact that the main character is obsessed with the Smiths (ugh. Not the Smiths themselves so much as people who are obsessed with them. Like this guy) and is such an insufferable hipster that he actually makes mix tapes on cassettes, in the year 2012, and yet not one single person in the movie was familiar with David Bowie’s “Heroes.” THAT MAKES NO GODDAMNED SENSE. There were a few brief moments that made me chuckle, but overall it was just fucking horrible.

I bring this crappy movie up to help illustrate why I love Nick Cave so much. So much popular art is completely reliant on formula, whether it’s predictable chord changes or shitty, obvious movie dialogue that stupid angsty teenagers mistake for profundity. And yet in many cases it winds up being successful! See, Nick Cave could wake up tomorrow, say “fuck it,” and record an album that sounds exactly like Taylor Swift with about five minutes of real effort. People would probably listen to it, because everyone in the world except me and Ron Paul are mindless sheeple who only respond to familiarity and comfort and are afraid of things that are new and different. Nick Cave and artists like him, however, are not content with pandering to these people and instead demonstrate a drive to change and create things that didn’t exist before. Nocturama relied on some clichés, sure, but overall he does an incredible job of coming up with new creative and interesting ways to present himself every time he comes out with an album.

The evolution continues on Push The Sky Away. The gang scales back its noisy mid-life crisis rock and reemerges in a ghostly electronic hush. Prominently featured are electric keyboards, bass, strings, piano, clean electric guitar, female backing vocals, and Nick Cave’s inside voice. Perhaps in an attempt to keep things fresh, many of these songs, for better or worse, feel more spontaneously created and thus less intricately composed than any Bad Seeds material has in a long while (Grinderman notwithstanding). But what it may lack somewhat in the high and accessible melodic quality of the previous two Bad Seeds albums, it basically makes up for with outstanding engineering, characteristically great Nick Cave lyrics, and cool as shit instrumentation and musical subtleties.

Holy shit! I just discovered that this is the first Bad Seeds album since Your Funeral… My Trial to feature original member Barry Adamson on bass (doesn’t make up for Mick Harvey not being in the band anymore, but it’s still cool)! That totally explains why the fast, foreboding two note basslines of “Water’s Edge” and “We Real Cool” legitimately sound like they were stolen from some of the stuff on From Her To Eternity. That was my immediate reaction when I first listened to them and I thought maybe I was just hearing things, but lo and behold, I am perceptive. Who knew? But they don’t just let it ride and make ugly noises and call it a song like they might’ve done in the old days… OK, sure, maybe they start off with Nick understatedly brooding over those static basslines and not really going anywhere, but halfway through, both songs suddenly sneak in string sections and become weary piano laments. Neat!

There’s just a ton of really cool stuff going on in the mix here. Like when the keyboards drop out at the end of the lush “Wide Lovely Eyes,” revealing that the muted guitar line that’s been running throughout the entire song while you were busy being comforted and enveloped by the song’s warm, romantic qualities reveals itself to be dissonant and unsettling! Or the just plain AWESOME rimshot sound the engineer got on the meta semi-spoken word “Finishing Jubilee Street.” For instance. But as much I love the sound of this thing, I kind of miss the more consistent melodicism that the band had previously been displaying since Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus. On this album, maybe the strum-along chorus of “Mermaids” is just a tad hokey, but at least you can sing along to it… on the other hand, both the opener “We No Who U R” and the closing title track are spooky and atmospheric with cool keyboard tones, and feature memorable refrains, so maybe I have no point.

I guess the most major points of interest here are the two guitar epics, “Jubilee Street” and “Higgs Boson Blues.” Neither is a remotely complicated composition, both being content to slowly build up from, in the case of the former, a simple arpeggiated guitar riff, and, in the case of the latter, a basic strummed, bluesy chord sequence, without ever bothering with choruses, bridges, or with changing at all other than by gradually getting louder over the course of their 7-8 minute running times. But both are incredibly evocative slow burners, mostly owing to a combination of the great engineering and mixing, Nick Cave’s voice, and Nick Cave’s lyrics. The climax of “Jubilee Street” is by far the record’s most exciting passage, and “Higgs Boson Blues” is the best post-apocalyptic song Nick has written since “Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow” (which of course was the best post-apocalyptic song he’d written since “Tupelo”)! The lyrics are, well, you know. They’re Nick Cave. You’ll find both his usual frightening, erudite imagery (“Can’t remember anything at all/Flame trees line the streets,” “Well here comes Lucifer with his canon law/And a hundred black babies running from his genocidal jaw”) and a couple of head scratching references (“Hannah Montana does the African Savannah/As the simulated rainy season begins” – ??!?) over the course of the song. My favorite lines on the album actually both come from “Mermaids”: “She was a catch/We were a match/I was the match that would fire up her snatch” (hehe); “I believe in God/I believe in mermaids too/I believe in 72 virgins on a chain, why not, why not/I believe in the rapture/For I’ve seen your face/On the floor of the ocean/At the bottom of the rain.”

So yeah. Nick Cave is 55 now and still rules my ass. Even though he shaved his mustache. Crap.



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