It’s been five years since the gothic rock cabaret of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! and the longest gap between two Bad Seeds releases in their 30 years together. But where Lazarus and the two Grinderman albums packed a weighty punch, Push The Sky Away is much more of an exercise in restraint. It’s as though Nick Cave has taken off his boxing gloves and sat down for a good old think.
His trademark gospel-style delivery is at its brooding best on ‘Wide Lovely Eyes’, ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ and lead single, ‘We Know Who U R’. Lyrically, see ‘Water’s Edge’ for four minutes of tense imagery set to an incessant bass riff and straining guitar hooks. The middle sections frequently rise into a crescendos of strings and cymbals before falling gently back into the tickle of a hi-hat, the echo of a guitar or the murmur a sighed sentence. As a frontman, Cave has mastered the art of being entirely sinister and entirely graceful at the same time.
‘Jubilee Street’, ‘Mermaids’ and ‘Finishing Jubilee Street’ ease the transition through the halfway point of the album and, again, hypnotic vocals are there to captivate your attention, jolting you awake with the occasional menacing line. At times, Cave is downright creepy. He howls and moans his way through most of the tracks but just when it seems like it all could get a bit much, the mood calms and the next transition is already upon you. Moments of disturbance are craftily scattered throughout what is, on the whole, a very serene and tranquil soundscape. If you compare it to many of his previous releases then there’s definitely a lot less of the in-your-face references to sex and death. As an album it feels much more calculated and more complete as a finished article.
After a few runs through, it becomes harder and harder to predict where the Bad Seeds can actually go from here. Expansion seems impossible off the back of such a well-crafted record. It’s gentle, yet fierce; tender, yet raw; calm, yet vicious. These seeds sprout on the first track and mingle with each other over the next forty minutes, intertwining like vines up a brick wall. You might even catch yourself sitting, open-mouthed, staring at nothing in particular. But that’s not a bad thing at all.