Last time we heard from The Bad Seeds, five years ago on Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, they kicked with the spirit of Grinderman, proving they could still sound like one of the hardest bands on the planet. While it’s no secret that they’re also one of the most versatile, Push The Sky Away is a reminder that Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds often find their greatest power in restraint. At the turn of the century, The Boatman’s Call and No More Shall We Part were new peaks in a career that’s now just closing the door on its third decade, and here Cave and the Seeds return to creating atmospheric, hushed pieces that have more in common with Lambchop than Abattoir Blues.
From the title down, Push The Sky Away is saturated with the elements; water imagery seeps in to every nook and cranny, from recurring mermaid motifs to Cave briefly thinking he’s married a girl named Mary Stanford. On Water’s Edge, Warren Ellis’ tape loops and viola wash over Cave’s piano, the song see-sawing between the beauty in the sound and the horror in Cave’s vision of girls who “dismantle themselves by the water’s edge” with legs “wide to the world like Bibles open, to be speared and taking their bodies apart like toys”. It’s as if everyone could be engulfed by the waves at any moment.
Elsewhere, they threaten to float away, as on Mermaids, which opens up to ethereal vistas as Cave finds new ways to explore his devotional emotions through myth. Across the album as a whole he works towards a sort of mid-world territory, between air and water, dream and reality. Two-thirds of the way through, on Finishing Jubilee Street – several songs after one titled Jubilee Street – Cave recounts waking up from a sleep after writing the earlier piece. A simultaneous dream/lullaby, it captures that weird hallucinatory reality between sleeping and waking, in one of the stranger pieces to come from The Bad Seeds’ later period.
Opener We No Who U R and the title track bookend the album, the former a wonderfully haunting entry point to this strange terrain, though it’s the latter that encapsulates Cave and The Bad Seeds’ spectacularly wilful career. Whether its friends who “think you should do it different”, those who wish you’d stay the same, or whether you yourself are convinced you’ve got “everything and you don’t want no more”, Cave’s always been in favour of the song’s mantra: “Just keep on pushing and push the sky away.” It’s ensured that, after 30 years, he and The Bad Seeds remain limitless.