The newest in a mercurial career, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds’ 15th record sounds as if Cave has rinsed the spectacular sleaze and depravity of Grinderman from his haunting baritone and embraced a new quiet. While the title of the record—Push The Sky Away—looks more Kelly Clarkson than Bad Seeds, the opening track, “We No Who U R,” (“And we know who you are/And we know where you live/And we know there’s no need to forgive… again”) sets the tone for the album. Never stagnant, Cave isn’t having an identity crisis. After years of honing his craft—it’s been almost 30 years since the release of the now-classic From Her To Eternity—his menacing lyrics and goose-prickling noir accompaniment have been refined to perfection on Push The Sky Away.
The meditative album is a literary foil to 2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!. Where Dig thumped with the soul of a properly heady rock album, Push The Sky Away takes an inward look at Cave’s hardboiled neo-noir persona, setting the scene by replacing granular guitars with choral movements. It’s a natural progression, though, as longtime Bad Seeds/Birthday Party collaborator/guitarist Mick Harvey’s time with Cave came to an end in 2009; the lack of the gritty rock that he brought to each album allows Push The Sky Away to more prominently showcase Warren Ellis’s labyrinth of instrumental subtleties. But that isn’t the only change: Barry Adamson, former Bad Seeds bassist through the early ’80s, has returned, providing chilling tones throughout the record. The album is steady in its deliberate pace, leaving time for each moment to be properly absorbed.
Leave it to Nick Cave to conjure the stark visuals, be it the murdered prostitutes, “Jubilee Street”’s obsessive black book or a churning, bottomless sea on “Mermaids.” He also provides the obligatory dirges, notably “Jubilee Street” and “Higgs Boson Blues,” which culminate in a frighteningly manic build. Push The Sky Away reaches the height of its boiling fever dream with the nearly 8-minute-long penultimate track, “Higgs Boson Blues.” A reference to the discovery of the fundamental fragments of mass as we know it—the “God Particle” found with Geneva’s Large Hadron Collider—Cave’s lyrics spiral into a k-hole of absurdist pop-culture references. His mash-up includes fiery visions of the devil and bluesman Robert Johnson, Hannah Montana performing African chants, bell hops, Cave’s desire to be buried with a mummified cat and a sweet pair of shined yellow shoes. It’s the ramblings of a wild-eyed traveler in the midst of an existential crisis.