Album’s minimalist approach disappoints Bad Seeds’ fans
Most discussion about Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ “Push the Sky Away” has been littered with doubt. The 2009 departure of longtime member Mick Harvey rendered the album the first to be released without a founding Bad Seeds member (sparing its leader). Harvey, who worked with Cave since their Boys Next Door days in the mid-70s, added a layer of concise, energetic musicianship that became comfortably familiar to fans of Cave’s repertoire. As a result of his absence, the new release is instrumentally sparse – and it struggles.
The biggest drawback is that it teems with hollowness. This can easily be viewed as the other end of the spectrum, but there are points — notably “Jubilee Street” and its sequel — when Cave acts more like a lackadaisical piece of flesh with little soul or movement. The album’s pace is slow, staggering as it wades through a caricatured depth that falls on the deaf ears of inattentive listeners. In short, there’s no way one can kick against the pricks with stagnancy.
Cave has always had a Faulkner-like quality about him, and his stream-of-consciousness storytelling is capable of overshadowing the album’s mediocrity. But it doesn’t. Puns and name-checks weave their way into songs like “Higgs Boson Blues” and “Mermaids,” serving as subtle jokes that fall flat in the shadow of dark, vivid lyrics for which the band’s leader is best known. If anything, these provide a mere chuckle but only fill the space as desperate glimmers of former glory.
That said, it’s possible that, in the case of 1997’s “The Boatman’s Call,” the world has temporarily fallen out of love with the Bad Seeds. Cave is frequently regarded as a man with a unique brand of shock value, a hodgepodge of western, Southern gothic and horror flavor. But these new tracks seem to be missing the nuance desired by most fans, and this can be accounted for by Cave’s entry into a tired age, the absence of a long-time friend or an implied shove in the direction of a swan song.
Oftentimes groups who exist with a sole original member — any myriad of prog-rock groups, especially — call for desperate touring and mediocre-to-horrible output. While Nick Cave is better than this as a versatile cult presence, he’s only added a disappointing item to his catalog. He’s a Renaissance man known for his intensity, but the minimal approach of “Push the Sky Away” is far less intoxicating.