Overly Stylized, ‘Push The Sky Away’ Ultimately Falls Flat
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 21:02
This latest release from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is niche listening to the extreme. Each song sounds like a poetry slam, and it achieves its rumbling, gritty feel with slithery bass grooves, low-down electric guitar, and the front man preaching free verse over the whole shady affair. That said, you may want to hold back on your finger-snapping, at least until you’ve listened in on some of Cave’s lyricism for long enough to see past the heavy stylization. Beneath the viney summer times in the swing-low valley of the Poconnos, Cave is like a stir-fry with no nipples, a sun with no erection. And if you think that last sentence didn’t make sense, you’ll see why Push The Sky Away can dazzle temporarily, but under closer scrutiny will consistently fall flat.
Straight from the gate, the Australian group sets the atmosphere for a mellow jam-out with the works: long rests between high-hat rattles, dark keyboard chimes and, of course, Cave speaking as if he’s gritting his teeth all dangerous and mysterious like. “We No Who U R” starts off with the hook, “Tree don’t care what the little bird sings / We go down with the dew in the morning light,” which might have been forgivably vague if it was followed by any shadow of substance. Similarly, the third track “Water’s Edge” actually has a pretty killer riff, but it’s let down by lyricism that doesn’t recognize how farcical it sounds: for example, “As the local boys … / Think long and hard about the girls … / Who dance at the water’s edge, shaking their asses” somehow lacks the subtlety of conventional poetry while at the same time falls short of Ginsberg punch, doomed to the unimpressive middle-ground. Gwendolyn Brooks’ fans might be excited by what appears to be a reference to her poetry on the sixth track titled “We Real Cool,” but they’ll be soundly disappointed when they find that the only material the song gleans from the poem is the title phrase. Either Cave has read the poem and really didn’t understand it, or he saw the words in a magazine somewhere and convinced himself he’d written them. All in all, beneath the pretentious stream of consciousness verse and the occasional, half-assed slant rhyme, Cave doesn’t have much to say. When you get past the scene that the Bad Seeds are setting for you, you basically wind up with a small poet behind the curtain and not much else.
Cave’s inspirations are obvious: he’s going for the slick, cool, rambling tone that Jim Morrison and Tom Waits had so down pat. His songs follow that same sort of badass vein as Dylan’s “Cold Irons Bound,” wrought with nonsense imagery and cruel, sullen refrains. The problem is that Cave can’t holler like Mr. Mojo Risin, nor can he ramble as gruffly as Waits, and God knows he’s far from writing like Dylan. No, Cave’s attempts at darkness are more likely to pan out like the ill-fated “Higgs Boson Blues,” which betrays no insight into the particle or its significance but rather tries to mash together cultural references in attempts to seem pertinent. Possessed by some blind hack of a muse, the track leaps from Robert Johnson to Hannah Montana, and guess what: it just doesn’t freaking work. The whole thing comes off as muddled free-association with nothing to stand on.
In the title track, which Cave saves for last, all the self-aggrandizing beatnik stuff fades away, and the listener is left with what reads like a blander version of “I Gotta Feelin’” by the Black Eyed Peas. Fittingly, the intended grand catharsis is as meaningless as the rest of the album. By the final line, listeners will wonder how Cave has the gall to say you feel rock and roll “right down to your soul” when it’s so devastatingly apparent this man ain’t got no “soul” at all. n