Some thirty six years after he started making music with the Birthday Party, the living legend that is Nicholas Edward Cave continues to endure and prosper. There is no great mystery as to how or why he continues to thrive. Cave has never been one to succumb to the self inflicted curse visited on other long standing Rock icons -for him, coasting on the back of past glories has never been an option and so every record in each of his various guises has a vitality, imagination and wit that eludes many of his contemporaries. As a lyricist and story-teller he is quiet simply peerless – whether he is spitting fire and brimstone in the role of wide-eyed, apocalyptical preacher or writing beautiful, contemplative odes to lost lovers, his command of language is always nothing short of spectacular.
And so after the mid-life crisis Rock of Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! and the two Grinderman albums, Push The Sky Away represents a retreat to a more sombre space with Cave in reflective mood, adopting the role of keen observer of everyday life. Fortunately for us, Caves everyday life would appear to be a whole lot more colourful than yours or mine, populated by mermaids, prostitutes and a menagerie of the weird and the wonderful. Gone is the lewd and lascivious Cave of Grinderman, and the cocky, tongue in cheek machismo of Dig!!! Lazurus Dig!!! - this album strips things back sonically, and is markedly different in tone to anything he has done with Bad Seeds in the past.
Opening track ‘We No Who U R’ with its text speak title sets the scene for what is to follow; Caves deep baritone voice commanding instant attention against a backdrop of light percussion and a simple keyboard motif. An air of menace hangs heavy over the magnificent ‘Jubilee Street’, built on an ominous guitar riff and a violin melody that snakes its way through the track as it builds and builds towards an impressive climax. The strong start to the album continues with the beautiful ‘Mermaids’ while the seven minute plus of ‘Higgs Bosun Blues’ is Cave at his most flamboyant and colourful, managing to squeeze legendary blues man Robert Johnson and Hannah Montana into the same narrative.
Over the course of thirty years and fifteen albums, Cave and the Bad Seeds have stubbornly refused to settle into a comfortable groove, recognising this as the first step towards stagnation. There have been peaks and troughs along the way but even at their least inspired Cave and his trusty cohorts have never been anything less than a compelling listen. Push The Sky Away is another outstanding album to add to an impressive body of work and the first truly great album of 2013.
Review by Paul Page