Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds take on their fifteenth album with Push the Sky Away, a phantasmagorical brooding on the visions of a fevered night sweat. Inspired by falling down various Wikipedia holes and googling niche “curiosities”, the album has an encyclopedic bent to it. The black undercurrent of violence and nausea inherent in Cave’s songs takes the stage in “Water’s Edge,” a song which burns like acrid oils, filled with the lustful languor of local boys watching the city girls with their “legs wide to the world / Like Bibles open / to be speared and taken apart like toys.” The musk of these lascivious sea legs reappear in “Mermaids” with its vitriolic grip loosened, yet nonetheless possessing the bizarre lick of a hallucination.
Compared to the band’s work under their garage-y Grinderman alias and the last Bad Seeds album, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, this album is very understated. The controlled textures in the opening track “We No Who U R” make for a ballad with repose but no lack of intensity. Other highlights include “Jubilee Street,” a modern-sounding take on the usual Nick Cave/Tom Waitsian murdered prostitute, and its epilogue, “Finishing Jubilee Street,” which displays introspection at its most direct. The track’s female vocals anchor the song and add a subtle counterbalance to Cave’s baritone.
The most lyrically elaborate track on the album is “Higgs Boson Blues”, a smeared stream-of-consciousness meditation on the slaughter of past dignities and modern glamours. Cave’s particular apocalyptic vision takes the listener through scenes of colonialism, a mystic monkey and Miley Cyrus floating in a pool. Push the Sky Away is the flirtation with modern pop culture Cave has been meaning to attempt. Earning the term “mature” like no other act, the Bad Seeds are able to undertake this experimentation without compromising the gravity of their work.
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