BEST OF 2013: 14. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Around the time of the first Grinderman album, it was starting to look like Nick Cave might be en route to some sort of mid-life, or at least Tin Machine-esque, crisis. The ragged bluster and borderline embarrassing, faux erotic, possibly misogynistic bluster all proving good for a listen or two but nothing much else. It was all the more confusing for having arrived after the largely wonderful double album ‘Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus’. It was, perhaps, something he had to get out of his system, as the subsequent Bad Seeds record ‘Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!’ and even the second Grinderman outing were fine listens returning to the complexity of that brilliant double set. That said, many people had reached a point where they pretty much knew what a Nick Cave record sounded like and didn’t necessarily feel the need to rush out for another. To those people in particular, I direct this piece.

‘Push The Sky Away’ is a relatively simple, melodically languid and lyrically crisp album. It is, I feel reasonably confident to suggest, my favourite of his releases and it took me by surprise. A few wisecracks were made when it first emerged about certain musical similarities with Tindersticks, and these observations are worth repeating. The somnambulant gravitas and aural opulence of some of their finest work is certainly at play on parts of this album, not least opener ‘We No Who U R’ which is considerably better than its woefully rendered title suggests. Hearing it playing as I exited a recent Manics gig at Bristol’s Colston Hall made me realise how it already feels like a classic. In fact, in my euphoric haze, my mind briefly told me it was Leonard Cohen, which still makes sense. The organ sound on ‘Mermaids’, for example, also evokes the finesse of late period Len and captures a subtlety and dexterity that Cave has displayed on occasion in the past, but seems truly at ease with at this point in his career.

As well as offering a fascinating mutation of his sound, there is a curious meta-textual aspect to the pairing of ‘Jubilee Street’ a sweeping, ornate track on side A and ‘Finishing Jubilee Street’ on side B. It’s a freewheeling, largely spoken word piece which doesn’t really seem to go anywhere at first but over time seeps in. The sweet backing vocal refrain offers a bizarre counterpoint to the peculiar frenzy of some of the words. It serves as a very fitting prelude to the frankly fabulous ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ which writhes and twitches itself towards a simmering intensity, while it is then slowly released across its final minute. The title track concludes matters with a sparse and hymnal tone which simply retreats into the middle distance in order to bring things to a halt. Many will argue about which album represents Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ masterpiece, but this is something slightly different. This is a delicate record, an encapsulated sonic space. I’m forcing down a wry eyebrow as I write this but, as I’ve mulled this particular entry on the list over the past week, the phrase that keeps coming to mind is ‘work of art’ and, to a point, I think it just might be. Whatever you thought you new about Nick Cave records, it might be worth giving this a go to see how it fits that picture.

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