A Late Understanding Of Nick Cave's 2013 Album
I bought this LP when it first came out at the start of 2013, quickly shelved it and thought I'd probably never listen to it ever again. I thought this is the most boring Nick Cave shit ever. 'No Mick Harvey, bring Blixa back, where's Ed Kuepper? Wasn't he meant to playing on this?' Were my thoughts. A couple of weeks ago I pulled it out for the first time since February 2013 after seeing a cool poster on the interweb for his current tour. I thought maybe I missed something. I mean it was high in end of 2013 lists and quite rated (I do have a mistrust of post millennial rock criticism and don't read reviews).
The first thing I noticed when I put the cd in the computer was that bloody itunes had blanked out the pubic hair of the lady on the front cover (Nick Cave's Wife?). I still found it a little boring. Something dragged me back though. Several listens in and I was diggin it like no Bad Seeds record since the 80s. This is the Grinderman comedown and it's no rock record. That what I had to come to terms with, Push The Sky Away having little to to with raucous Cave. Lyrically Cave's in fine form. His words are just as fucked up and lewd as anything from the 2 classic Grinderman LPs. Kudos must go to producer Nick Launay for keeping the record subtle and nuanced. No other band could have made this album. The Bad Seeds minimalism and restraint is so affective here.
It's track 3 that got me in. Water's Edge is musically co-written by Thomas Wilder and it has an edge like something from say Your Funeral, My Trial... A minute in and you're expecting Blixa Bargeld to chime in with his idiosyncratic guitar and vocals. I could have sworn that was a Barry Adamson bassline but looking on the liner notes he only plays on 2 tracks toward the end. Maybe Marty was channelling Adamson's ominous spirit. Water's Edge has a seductive menace and creepiness reminiscent of 80s Bad Seeds. Particularly when its Cave whispers in your ear "But you grow old and you grow cold/But You grow old and you grow cold/You grow old." Then Nick's singing shit like "Their legs wired to the world/Like bibles open/To be speared." This tunes a bloody classic.
This is followed by Jubilee Street one of Push The Sky Away's centrepieces. This is a slow burning sprawl of a song that swells and swells to its loud conclusion. Jubilee Street is one of those seedy streets that every city capital has. Cave sings classic lines like "The Problem was she had a little black book/And my name was written on every page/ Well a girl's gotta make ends meet even down on Jubilee Street/I was out of place & time/And over the hill/And out of my mind." Were these words sung by Grinderman they'd have been sung with joyous nihilism but in The Bad Seeds hands the sense of guilt and remorse close in. It must be a couple of years on in the tune when he sings "These days I go down town in my tie & tails.' .Then comes the lyric of the LP: "I've got a foetus on a leash."There are allusions to being transformed whilst the song swells into redemptive euphoria.
Mermaids is a lascivious tune from a voyeur's point of view. Yeah remember when Nick Cave was pervy ie Watching Alice from 1988's Tender Prey. That's where this track sits with a little humour. Mermaids contains great lecherous lines like "I was the match/That would fire up her snatch." Later he's "Fired from her crotch/Now I sit around and watch." Finishing Jubilee Street is creepy. I'm not fully sure what he's on about here perhaps a dream. The Bad Seeds create a dark and disturbing vibe here that shows Cave doesn't always need to whack you over the head to get his point across. The restraint and plaintive singing from Martha Skye Murphy (?) after Cave has sung words like "Last night your shadow scampers up the wall/It flied/It leaped like a black spider between your legs and cried." creates an indecent feel. It's some kind of nightmarish vision with tremendous haunted xylophone from Jim Scalvunos that plays in unison with the keys.
Higgs Boson Blues harks back to The Bad Seeds vision of American blues which First Born Is Dead from 1985 was steeped in but this time it includes the whole world as America. Visions of driving black roads, flame trees, crossroads, Robert Johnson, Lucifer, Memphis, heat, rooms with views, flop houses, preaching in new languages, bell hops, cleaning ladies, yellow patent leather shoes, being hot, Hannah Montana, monkeys with gifts, missionaries with small pox and flu, driving his car down to Geneva, rainy days and finishing with Miley Cyrus floating in a swimming pool in Taluca lake. This is Nick Cave at a career best songwriting peak. It's Steve Kilby-esque in its psychedelic fabulousness. The title track is last and it fits with the 2010s vibe of downer euphoria, conflicted feelings, emptiness etc. Is it a lament or a paean to salad days or none of the above? One thing I do know is Push The Sky Away is one of the most beautiful songs The Bad Seeds have ever recorded.