I don’t really understand Nick Cave; most still-active 80s artists are lucky to be considered consistent and predictable (Morrissey) and and worst can be contrived and painful listens (U2, Springsteen). But Nick Cave not only manages to remain artistically viable, it even seems like he might still be growing as a musician. His last few records with the Bad Seeds (Abbatoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!) have been some of his best, and though Push The Sky Away (Cave and co.’s 15th studio album to date) is definitely the weakest of the trio, it continues Cave’s commitment to never staying still, never stagnating.
I actually think it might be easiest to start with what disappointed me about this album. First of all, Push The Sky Away is a much more downtempo affair than previous releases. On Push, one of Cave’s strongest points becomes one of the album’s weakest: it’s not what you’ve come to expect, and in some cases want, from Cave. Possibly one of the most boisterous of all frontmen, Cave is content to drift into the songs’ drowsiness, his voice susceptible to drowning in their sullen ether. The beauty of this album is anchored on what you have come to expect from Cave. There is nothing quite as bombastic as “Get Ready for Love” or “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!,” and it’s kind of disappointing to see that the king of bombast has made an album without any of it.
And as for what Push The Sky Away Gets right? There’s a lot to cover. Swarming, disney-esque string parts, vocal meditations reminiscent of Cave’s Kylie Minogue collaboration “Where the Wild Roses Grow”; and of course, Cave’s ironic and acerbic forays into spirituality and religion. There’s something incredibly light and open about this album, something almost aquamarine to it. In fact this might be the first time Cave and his cohorts have sounded truly Australian on an album, almost as though Push The Sky Away is a testament to that country’s natural magnificence. Even the album’s title is brimming with anticipation of something free and exuberant.
Cave’s voice is probably the most consistent thing about his music; gruff and filled with hook-handed derangement, then reaching John Gieglund levels of smoothness. His voice is comparable to an expensive whiskey that you gulp back and you can understand that it is smooth, that there is a smoothness to the texture, but it is still whiskey and it is still naturally quite rough. Cave’s extensive partnership with flautist-cum-guitarist-cum-highway robber Warren Ellis once again pays off through the orchestral wizard’s delectable little melodies and arrangements. To make a rather out there comparison: Ellis is not the driving artistic force but in so many ways he is the brains behind the operation. The mechanic; the tinkerer.
Cave hasn’t settled down in his 30-odd years of performing, and he is one of the few – dare I say it – old timers in rock who isn’t treated like an old timer. Push The Sky Away is probably Nick Cave’s weakest release of the millenium, but following up two of his best albums was no easy feat, and he managed to do so without succumbing to either of their charms. Push The Sky Away is more of a firm breath than a knockout punch, but one which could make its way around a continent before running out of air.