Despite being responsible for some overtly scuzzy and raucous musical moments over their 30-odd year career, understated, subtle and wry are terms that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have no problem being attached to. It’s certainly the case with much of the latest Bad Seeds offering, their 15th studio album and arguably containing some of their best work to date.
Push the Sky Away is an altogether more airy and delicate collection of songs than those found on 2009’s Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!! and it can safely be said that the absence of Mick Harvey’s guitar from the Bad Seeds line-up has created the space for such intricacies to emerge. Not that Harvey leaving the band was in any way a good thing, probably the opposite, but when the upshot is this sublime it’s hard to imagine how any addition to the mix could have made the songs better.
The album is a strange combination of gentle instrumentation not too unlike The Boatman’s Call but with some demented and droll lyrics. Taking his lyrical cues from Google results for cultural curio and the like, Cave underpins the entire album with a layer of whimsy that strangely enough adds to the musical grace. If these songs were any faster, or even had more rigour in their tempo, it could possibly be at the expense of this balance between frivolity and beauty. And all this in spite of song titles such as ‘We No Who U R’ and ‘We Real Cool’.
There really isn’t a bad song on this album and if that wasn’t enough, all eight of them are in fact stunning. Crediting the band’s otherwise impermissible forays into noisy, faux-psychedelia with Grinderman as a saving grace for the Bad Seeds, this return to ethereal and hazy tunes on Push The Sky Away will surely stand up as one of their defining works. In ‘Jubilee Street’ and ‘Mermaids’ alone they may have set the benchmark for lo-fi, emotive perfection.