3 stars (out of 4)
For the last several albums – “Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!” with the Bad Seeds in 2008, and two Grinderman releases – Nick Cave has been in room-wrecking mode. The music brimmed with mayhem, misadventure and ink-black humor. With “Push the Sky Away” (Bad Seed Ltd.), Cave clears away the carnage and emerges with a doozy of a hangover.
“Push the Sky Away” merges the erotic and the ominous in a cocoon of electronic loops, sparse keyboards, murmured voices, and post-3 a.m. narratives. Lovely strings, flute and backing vocals occasionally shed some light, but mostly this is Cave playing it slow, hushed and haunted.
The Bad Seeds make the most of the minimalist sounds, from the swooning melancholy of “Wide Lovely Eyes” to the agitated bass of the lusty “Water’s Edge.” The music never builds to a roar, instead preferring to smolder beneath Cave’s evocative wordplay. In “Jubilee Street,” a hypnotic guitar riff and droning violin curl around Cave’s carefully calibrated longing, until he hits rock bottom. Few make catharsis out of defeat as convincingly: “I am alone, I am beyond recriminations,” Cave sings, “the curtains are shut, the furniture is gone, I’m transforming, I’m vibrating, I’m glowing, I’m flying, look at me now…”
Many of these songs suggest hallucinations: the taunting “Mermaids” slipping to the bottom of the sea, the ghosts of Robert Johnson and, yes, Hannah Montana drifting through “Higgs Boson Blues,” the funereal title song. Each holds a deeply embedded layer of electronic noise, like a muffled cry from the basement. In an album without any shocking turns, that “tiny, trembling heart beat,” as Cave calls it, starts to sound louder with each listen.