Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - press shot © Cat Stevens, 2013

Under Dark Skies

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd)
February 18, 2013

Cards on the table at the outset - this writer is not a Nick Cave super-fan. Nowhere near. I cannot profess to know all of the words to every track on The Boatman's Call - or any of the band's previous albums, for that matter. However, what's unequivocally clear is that this is, the band's fifteenth studio album, is a damned fine record. Dark, spellbinding and compelling - all of those things which we casual aficionados spout out when grilled about Cave by those with stronger knowledge - Push the Sky Away sweeps you up and spits you out on the strength of the main man's storytelling ability.

After a modest start to proceedings, things really get going three songs in with 'Water's Edge'. Cave's half-spoken, half-sung vocal could reel you in all on its own, but brief, tantalising flourishes of piano and a persistent minor-key string hook complement his tale of yearning and lust perfectly. 'Jubilee Street' is even better - alliterative lyrics, more beautiful strings and a skilful heightening of its eerie atmosphere right the way through to Cave's final declaration: "# I'm flying, look at me now! #". Together, they form the highlight of this record.

The overall mood of Push the Sky Away is graceful and contemplative, even when the tempo picks up. It's in stark contrast to the Bad Seeds' previous offering Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!. 'We Real Cool's chugging bassline manages to stay just the right side of understated, as does the magnificent 'Higgs Boson Blues', a colourful eight-minute ode set in Geneva starring Robert Johnson, Miley Cyrus, sobbing motel cleaners and the devil himself.

The shift in sound on Push the Sky Away has been attributed in some quarters to founding member Mick Harvey's departure from the Bad Seeds, but regardless of how it came about, it's a style that the band wear well. Whether it's a sad lament on the violin or disembodied, mournful backing vocals buried deep in the mix, these timeless tracks show there's still plenty of life in the band yet.

words: Kate Goodacre