Monday, March 4, 2013

A CALMER, SUBDUED NICK CAVE: A review of PUSH THE SKY AWAY by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

This is probably one of the most beautifully put together albums ever released. Instead of a jewel case, it’s a hardcover book with a pocket on the inside of both front and back covers. The album rests in the front pocket, and a bonus DVD can be found in the back pocket. In between are pages of photos and edited song lyrics. The words are typed, but many are crossed out and corrected by hand. Some lines and stanzas are blocked out entirely.

Not to mention the image on the cover. One could spend hours just talking about that picture alone. Two people in such an intimate moment, the casting out of a lover, surrounded by so much empty space. The fact that the woman, naked, feels the need only to cover her face as she walks on tiptoes. It’s just amazing.

It’s too bad the music itself doesn’t live up to such beauty. That’s to say nothing about the quality of the words. Nick Cave, who is also an author, is masterful with the usage of words and continues to be so. However, the music itself is just so calm and subdued that it almost seems lazy. There’s not a lot of power here. It’s as if they’ve all decided to hang out at home and just toss together an album, sitting back in their comfy chairs, yawning between verses.

It also doesn’t help that there are two really stupid names for songs: “We No Who U R” and “We Real Cool.” For someone who plays words like he was gently fingering a pussy, Cave has really made a strange choice with those titles. In the case of the former, it doesn’t even figure into the song, aside from the line “We know who you are,” which is spelled out in the lyrics the way it’s supposed to look.

The absolute best song on the album is “Water’s Edge.” It stands out as the only great piece here. There are some good songs—“Higgs Boson Blues” and “Push the Sky Away”—as well as a few that are serviceable—“Jubilee Street” and “Finishing Jubilee Street”—but for the most part, three good songs out of nine?

The bonus DVD is where the real magic happens. It contains two videos of new songs that are not on the album: “Needle Boy” and “Lightning Bolts.” The images aren’t anything special: just Cave and his band (mostly violinist Warren Ellis) hanging out in the studio, making music, while the lyrics to the songs show up on the left side of the screen. But those songs aren’t sit-back-and-relax songs; no, they’re get-up-and-move songs, songs to get the circulation going.

All in all, the good stuff makes up for the all-right stuff, so PUSH THE SKY AWAY is definitely worth purchasing, even if you’re not a big Nick Cave fan. Even the bad songs have good lines, like this, from the worst song on the album, “Mermaids”:

“She was a catch
And we were a match
I was the match
That would fire up her snatch.”

Written and performed by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Produced by Kobalt

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