Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds • Push The Sky Away

Bad Seed BS001V
Single 180-gram LP
2013

Music

Sound

by Roy Gregory | July 18, 2013

nybody who thinks that Morrisey was either the original or the greatest exponent of that peculiarly English musical genre miserablism clearly hasn’t experienced Nick Cave and his oft-times backing band, The Bad Seeds. Relentlessly arty, multimedia savvy and black-and-white bleak, Cave has been both a poster boy for the European avant-garde and sometime partner of P.J. Harvey. Push The Sky Away is as monochromatic and superficially ambiguous as most of his work, but here the moral and emotional desolation are coupled to a strong strain of underlying hope that builds into powerful and beautifully crafted songs. The subject matter might be stark and dark, but just listen to those beautifully measured chord progressions. Cave is always at his best when in understated, reflective mode, and this is his best album since the deeply emotional The Boatman’s Call mapped his emerging but ultimately doomed relationship with Harvey. So much of that album’s impact and power depended on the sheer authority and weight of its piano sound -- the way the music allowed space for the instrument’s decay and the way the recording captured just that. Here, too, the recording serves the music, with a sense of bass texture, body and immediacy that adds to the power, grace and intimacy of the songs.

Every album has its standouts and this is no exception. The opener "We Know Who U R," the anthemic "Jubilee Street" and fabulous extended intellectual anarchy of "Higgs Boson Blues" might take the honors here, but the more you listen the more the raw emotional energy of a song like "Water’s Edge" emerges and envelops you. The contrast with the almost gentle caress of "Jubilee Street," with its carefully weighted and restrained opening chords, adds to both songs once the brain’s musical muscle memory has assimilated the LP as a whole. For those who complain that nobody makes albums anymore, this record should come as a breath of fresh air, each transition, from chord to chord or track to track, is weighed with such precision and care. There’s nothing left to chance here, the composition and arrangements as surgically precise as the observing eye is unflinching, even when turned in upon itself, testament to a discography stretching back 35 years. Cave has been working with The Bad Seeds since 1984 and it shows in the tight playing and innate understanding that create space for each and every contribution. No matter how dense the music or the mix, each element is separate and purposeful, there for a reason. Even the absence of ever-present collaborator and guitarist Blixa Bargeld passes with barely a ripple, so strongly woven are the musical strands that bind.

The recording might not be audiophile pure, but it serves the music perfectly while escaping the worst excesses of modern studio production and mastering. Let’s be honest -- this is never going to make it onto mainstream airplay (if you find the album cover offensive, you definitely shouldn’t consider the lyrics) and it’s probably all the better for it, with a weight, fullness and dynamic range that really work the system. Having said that, the 180-gram LP sounds significantly better than the CD, with more body, separation, dimensionality, presence, color and dynamic range. It brings authority and humanity to Cave’s vocals, qualities that anchor and focus the music. Those who do take the digital option should consider the deluxe release, with a DVD featuring two extra tracks as well as a beautifully produced linen-bound book featuring lyrics and illustrations. Of course it won’t fit into any standard CD storage systems, but that’s a small price to pay.

Push The Sky Away has fast become a firm favorite, partly for the music and partly because of the way it stretches a system as well as encouraging it to shine. Cave’s familiar concerns with personal flaws and weaknesses as well as wider human fragility blend perfectly with the sheer power of the music and production, making this both a great album in its own right and a fascinating foil for P.J. Harvey’s Let England Shake. Great British pop is alive and well, and on this showing it still kicks.

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