Album Review: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Weighty, Brilliant LP, ‘Push The Sky Away’

by Ed Biggs

Thank goodness there are still veteran musicians these days who stick to what they’ve always done best – rock and roll. Although it’s rare, some older rockers get better with age, and that is the case with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Earlier this week, the band dropped their 15th studio album, which by itself is an impressive accomplishment, and shows they’re not fading away anytime soon. In fact, the heady, brilliant LP, Push The Sky Away, has been enthusiastically hailed by fans and critics alike as one of the band’s best albums to date.

Recently, Cave remarked that if his band’s albums are like children, then Push The Sky Away “is the ghost-baby in the incubator and Warren [Ellis]’s loops are its tiny, trembling heartbeat.” It is certainly a different animal than most Bad Seeds’ albums – brooding introspection is the order of the day, possibly coming as a disappointment to those who expected a cacophonous return in the vein of Abbatoir Blues after nearly five years out. It is also the first Bad Seeds album without Cave’s longtime partner-in-crime Mick Harvey. But while the sonic textures may have subtly changed, Harvey’s departure has not affected Cave’s disposition or writing. It feels like a natural progression from the stripped-down sound of his Grinderman side-project.

The superb lead single, “We No Who U R” is built around a spindly, barren loop of bass and Rhodes piano, and this sets the tone for the rest of the album. Volume is sacrificed for texture and atmosphere, in that Push Away The Sky will only reveal its charms to you upon repeat listenings. Only on the forthcoming single, “Jubilee Street,” (listen here in Best New Releases post) and album highlight, “Higgs Boson Blues,” does the band reach anything approaching the typical Bad Seeds’ signature racket.

“We No Who U R” (Non-album live version) – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds from We No Who U R

Across the web, praise of the album has been almost universal. The U.K.’s famous, long-running NME magazine wrote that the album is a “masterpiece that merges the experimentation and freedom of their side projects with Cave’s most tender songcraft.” All Music Guide contributor Thom Jurek observed: “The sonic sea change is deliberate, but given what a vastly musical band the Bad Seeds have always been, this more economical approach is jarring and delightfully unsettling.”

Less enthusiastically, The A.V. Club, added: “Push They Sky Away’s oppressively hollow minimalism is both its biggest drawback and its greatest strength.” Away in a corner, absolutely in a self-imposed, misguided minority, and quite surprisingly to boot, is this summation in Rolling Stone: “The first Seeds LP without co-founder Mick Harvey, Sky is full of tiny sounds–plinking guitars, pulsing bass, lazy subtle drums.”

The band will kick off their 2013 tour Tuesday night, February 26th, at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. They’re scheduled for three sold out shows there, as well as five more shows Down Under in locations from Adelaine and Perth to Melbourne and Brisbane. The Bad Seeds will kick off their U.S. tour in two weeks at SXSW in Austin, and are scheduled for shows (many which are sold out) through November. See the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ 2013 tour dates.

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