by BJW Nashe — Re-posted by popular demand

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have a shocking new album out called Push the Sky Away.  It doesn’t contain a single song about homicide, and I must say I’m outraged and dismayed that this could happen to the same man who gave us the Murder Ballads. Sure, the new record is a beautiful collection of songs.  No doubt the combination of remorseful and often bizarre lyrics, haunting minor-key melodies, and sparse musical arrangements makes Push the Sky Away a complex, evocative listening experience.  But no crime?  Where’s the murder and mayhem?  Where are the trials and executions?

caveIt’s nothing short of scandalous for an artist with Nick Cave’s reputation and stature to release an album this somber and subdued, so utterly bereft of bloodshed and carnage.  Of course it’s happened before — these musical comedowns that Cave periodically feels the need to indulge in as a way to kill time between his frenzied orgies. We all remember brooding and weeping along to “The Boatman’s Call.” And we showed real tolerance when it came to the hymn-like “Into My Arms,” because by and large we are good compassionate people.  But Push the Sky Away may be simply too much to handle.  It’s Bob Dylan (during his Christian phase) and Leonard Cohen (circa “I’m Your Man”) overdosing together on oxycontin at some quaint after-hours club or brothel, while passing a worn copy of John Donne from hand to palsied hand.

Any detectable levels of menace or dread lurking within the grooves, any hints of perversion, are hopelessly submerged in a miasma of serious art. “Jubilee Street” starts off strong; we meet a hooker named Bee. When Mr. Cave sings, “The problem was she had a little black book/and my name was written on every page,” our appetite for depravity is certainly whetted.  The problem is nothing bad happens.  By the end of the song, we’re sailing away into some amorphous heaven.  We are “transforming, vibrating, floating, glowing.”  No cops, no guns, no blood, no prison.  Not even any bad sex.  It’s anti-climactic, to say the least.

cave5And in the companion-piece to this song, “Finishing Jubilee Street,” a perfectly reasonable set-up for all kinds of hideous atrocity never comes to any kind of criminal fruition.  Here Cave uses a clever framing device you don’t often see in pop music.  “I had just finished writing Jubilee Street,” he intones, accompanied by the Bad Seeds doing a strange approximation of Philip Glass on angel dust.  “I lay down in my bed and fell into a deep sleep/When I awoke, I believed I‘d taken a bride called Mary Stanford/And I flew into a frenzy searching high and low/Because in my dream, the girl was very young.”  The act of writing his own song apparently has resulted in a fever dream reminiscent of “Annabel Lee” or Lolita.  In the end, shuddering and delirious, all he can do is chant the refrain, “All of this in her dark hair, oh Lord.” Is it too much to ask here for an arrest on statutory rape charges, followed by a prison stabbing?  Or something equally provocative?  Perhaps even a simple hanging? Nick, what’s the problem, baby?  Why are we just reciting Cave poetry?

Only during the eight-minute long “Higgs Boson Blues” do we get anything close to the kind of hardcore musical insanity that Nick Cave is contracted to deliver.  Or is there something in the small print that gives him a “get out of hell free” card every three or four records?  When my man wearily drones the lines, “I can’t remember anything at all/I’m driving my car down to Geneva,” we get the sense this is no pleasure trip.  And sure enough, the song soon moves into the nightmarish apocalyptic imagery we have come to count on:  Robert Johnson, Lucifer, the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, and Hannah Montana all figure, along with crying dolphins and Pygmies eating monkeys and trees on fire. “If I die tonight,” croons Nick, “bury me in my favorite yellow patent leather shoes.”  OK fine, now we are cooking.  There may be hope after all.  The tune culminates by blurring the lines between love and horror: “Ah let the damn day break/Rainy days always make me sad/Miley Cyrus floats in a swimming pool in Taluca Lake/And you’re the best girl I ever had.”

cave6It’s good as far as it goes but still pretty tame stuff by Cave standards. We expect more from the man who gave us such hell-bent crime classics as “From Here to Eternity” (love/sex/death epic), “The Mercy Seat” (electric chair execution), “Do You Love Me” (fatal attraction), “Your Funeral, My Trial” (self-explanatory), or anything from the afore-mentioned Murder Ballads album.  Perhaps the absence of Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld is somewhat to blame for the sublime grace and majesty of Push the Sky Away.  But ultimately Nick Cave himself must be held accountable for such flagrant indulgence in sensitive, artistic songwriting, and for keeping the body count so abysmally low. Frankly, we are all concerned for him now.

[Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are on tour now. Attendance at these shows is highly recommended. Songs about crime most likely will be performed. If not, perhaps an intervention could be staged.]

P.S.: If you need a true Cave crime fix right now you need look no farther than the sidebar on this Blog where Nick and The Bad Seeds are playing  a live version of “Do You Love Me.”  That’ll hold you.  And if it doesn’t, then you might consider seeking professional help.



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