It’s tempting to attribute the hushed, downtempo vibe on Nick Cave’s latest album to some sort of newfound height of maturity or late-career introspection. That may be the case, but it’s hardly the whole truth. Cave has toned down his incendiary songwriting many times before—specifically on 1990’s lush post-rehab effort, The Good Son, 1997’s heartbreaking The Boatman’s Call, and most of 2003’s Nocturama. Indeed, Cave’s willingness to regularly throw stylistic caution to the wind is similar to the attitude of forebears like Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
In the case of Push the Sky Away, that means giving himself over to the subtle push of a bass line on “We Real Cool” or to the delicate backgrounds that colour “We No Who ‘U’ R” and the title track, both of which are perfect examples of The Bad Seeds’ attention to sonic details—something that’s not praised often enough despite the masterful arrangements they’ve been crafting since 1986’s Kicking Against the Pricks. Though Push the Sky Away is somewhat slight in the lyrical department, without any of Cave’s evocative character studies or twisted allegories, there’s an excellent marriage of form and content here: Even the standard-issue blues of “Higgs Boson Blues” unfurls into an impressionistic jam reminiscent of Neil Young’s brilliant “On the Beach.”
Between his screenplays, film scores, novels, and visual art, Cave remains one of the most engaging modern-day Renaissance men, but all that extracurricular activity means that his most tried-and-true musical venture continues to yield the most surprising results.
Playlist picks: “Finishing Jubilee Street,” “Higgs Boson Blues,” “We No Who ‘U’ R”