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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Push the Sky Away”—Album Review

Bad Seed Ltd. (2012)

With his rambling lyricism and low-throated gruntings, the eclectic music of Nick Cave is admittedly an acquired taste appealing to a niche audience. His fifteenth record with The Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away, is not likely to grow his audience much, but those who get his vibe will immediately “get” the artistry and brilliance of this record.

This whole record is a lesson in drawing inspiration from the immediate. Take, for example, the NSFW album cover (which we didn’t post because it’s NSFW), apparently depicting Nick Cave banishing a naked woman from his room. (Granted, the naked woman is his wife, but that doesn’t make it SFW.) That picture was incidental, unstaged, snapped spontaneously between costume changes in the couple’s home during a photo shoot for Cave’s wife (a model) for a French magazine. The photo had such a mystique to it that it made the cover of the record.

Then there’s the fact that this is the first effort from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds without Bad Seeds’ mainstay Mick Harvey, who left the band in 2009. This, too, apparently served as artistic inspiration for Cave; the entire vibe of Push the Sky Away is sparse, minimal, desolate—you can literally hear and feel Harvey’s absence.

Heck, Cave even seems to be inspired by his own inspiration. A few tracks below the song “Jubilee Street” is the track “Finishing Jubilee Street”, in which Cave makes direct reference to his own creative process: “I’d just finished writing Jubilee Street,” he begins, “I lay down in my bed and fell into a deep sleep.” (He goes on to recount the dream.)

Further inspiration seems to come to Cave from his home along the Brighton, UK coast, as references to mermaids and the water’s edge flow in and out of his lyrics like the ebb and flow of the tide itself. Of course, the trademark religious and literary references are there, too (“Their legs wide to the world like Bibles open”), as well as some tongue-in-cheek nods to pop culture (“Hannah Montana does the African Savannah”). Through it all, with sparse instrumentation, polyrhythm and Cave’s stream-of-conscious ramblings, the whole record plays almost like beat poetry—melancholy, odd, eclectic, but entirely compelling. This isn’t a record for casual listening, but if you listen with both ears, you’ll find yourself hanging on Cave’s words, never knowing what he’ll say/sing next.

Like I said, Nick Cave is an acquired taste, and even I have to be in a particular mood to listen to him. But inspiration breeds inspiration, and Push the Sky Away is a record born of such inspiration. The end result is a work of modern art that deserves to be heard and appreciated. Long-time fans of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds will definitely hear the differences between this and earlier work, but my guess is that this record will find its way into their hearts nonetheless.

(Photo credit: David Shankbone/Wikimedia)

4 / 5 stars     

About the Author


Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Kim Phelps found her inspiration and love for music listening to local bands play in the coffeehouses around town. She soon found her own voice as a singer-songwriter, and eventually began playing her own gigs in the coffee shops. Her personal influences include Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls, Ingrid Michaelson and Cat Power, but as an indie musician herself, she has an affinity for any band or artist who pursues creative freedom on the outskirts of the music industry. As our Indie correspondent, Kim makes a point of highlighting up-and-coming independent acts who are creating a buzz and building an audience. When she's not blogging for us or playing in the coffee shops, Kim works as a barista herself to help pay the bills. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

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Posted in: Album Reviews, Featured, Indie/Alternative Music