ALBUM OF THE MONTH: Nick Cave – Push the Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd; 2013)

BY CATHAL DELEA

All tailored suit and slit-throats, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are back after an over-long absence, sans Mick Harvey, and with an altar offering in Push the Sky Away.

At fifty-five Cave is getting into dangerous territory; by rights he should’ve went to seed long ago; retired the Saville Row tailoring and mark of Cain in favour of a nice sit down and a coffee at his Brighton Home.  Maybe thrown in some slippers and an affable hound propped by the fireplace for good measure.

Instead though, he remains; he remains rock’s greatest master of all trades; lecturer, novelist, screenwriter and prophet for the damned, Cave hasn’t slowed down much since his last offering, but Push the Sky Away couldn’t be further from its twisting, sweating, groaning predecessor Dig! Lazarus Dig!

No, with Push the Sky Away a new Cave has risen, more pensive but mostly more experimental, this album is a wasteland, sparse and littered through with deserted soundscapes and taut guitars. The machine-gun snap and cock-on-cheek swagger might have gone but the songs remain the same, the old themes are all there – Love, sex, and death don’t need to grow up.

Love songs to make Adele kill herself (“Wide Lovely Eyes”), Old Testament rapture (“We Know WHO U R”) and literary winks are now blended with scientific discovery (“Higgs Boson Blues”) and an existential unease – Cave has the death-shakes, but not those of old.  He isn’t telling us how we’ll miss him when he leaves: “They’re gonna lay me low/ They’re gonna sink me in the snow/ They’re gonna throw back their heads and crow/When I go” – he is saying he isn’t sure if he wants to go, and the sentiment is expressed alongside strings that break your heart, and cinematic swells and grandeur of a fine order.

It’s easy to wonder where all this has come from.  It seems that Cave has held this album in the back of his mind, like an embryo that has been gestating – “I’ve got a foetus on a leash” – for years.   The touchstone for Push the Sky Away is Cave’s soundtrack for The Road with Warren Ellis.

At fifty-five Nick Cave hasn’t slowed down, but he’s beginning to feel it, feel that black thing that hovers above, feel it coming down on him. He’s found an answer though in the albums final, and achingly pretty, title track, “You got it, just keep on pushing it/ Keep on pushing it/ Push the sky away”.

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