It's been nearly five years since Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds issued the manic, intense rock cabaret that was Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! Since then, the formation and breakup of Grinderman yielded two studio offerings, and Cave and Warren Ellis have composed a few film scores. Push the Sky Away, produced by Nick Launay, is painted with a deliberately limited sonic palette by Ellis. The album's sequencing makes it feel like a long, moody suite. While most of these songs contain simple melodies and arrangements that offer the appearance of vulnerability and tenderness, it is inside this framework that they eventually reveal their sharp fangs and malcontent. Opener -- and first single -- "We No Who U R" is reminiscent of "Your Funeral, My Trial" in its intent, but musically Ellis' sparse loops, flute, and a backing vocal chorus lend it an elegiac feel that belies the threat in the lyric. "Water's Edge," with its rumbling bassline, eerie piano, and Ellis' droning violin loops, is more overt in its sinister menace. Its protagonist, full of rage at seeing the dance of romance among the young, warns: "It's the will of love/It's the thrill of love/It's the chill of love/Comin' on." "We Real Cool" uses that thrumming bassline too. Instantly taut, one awaits an explosion that never arrives -- musically. Here, and elsewhere on this recording, the listener is exhorted to walk an emotional tightrope between the human qualities in Cave's characters as speaking subjects and the more distasteful, disgusting traits that make them objects of repulsion. He doesn't judge. "Finishing Jubilee Street" features Ellis' electric guitar in bluesy resonance as it drones atop a strummed 12-string acoustic before layered strings begin marching toward a dramatic catharsis. "Higgs Boson Blues," the set's longest cut, uses the drum kit and electric guitars in a similarly long, formless blues that displays Cave in near rant mode; his black humor is evident inside sociological observations with Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana as characters. "Mermaids" employs humor too; from the start nearly obscene, it moves beyond its joke and becomes both a love song and a romantic elegy about the disappearance of the place of myth in Western spiritual life. Cave's protagonist believes in them all and laments them like an abandoned lover. The title track rises from the ether, driven by guest (and former Bad Seed) Barry Adamson's bassline and Ellis' eerie organ, which takes the foreground. It's a paean of determination in the face of grievous loss. Push the Sky Away is the first Bad Seeds record without Mick Harvey; the inherent lyricism and relative lushness in his musical arrangements are missed here. Despite excellent songs, this album feels more like an extension of Cave and Ellis' cinematic work than a classic Bad Seeds record. The sonic sea change is deliberate; but historically, given their vastly musical nature, this more economical approach is jarring, though seductive.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek