First published on 7 Feb 2013. Updated on 21 Feb 2013.
Yes, Nick, we get it: vaginas are great.
It’s not a sentiment that one would especially think was in need of expressing, sure, but on the 15th Bad Seeds album Cave is inexplicably determined to make clear that he likes lady parts with the sort of fervor normally reserved for the newly post-religious and 14 year old boys wracked with gay panic.
Cave’s position on dames is clear from the second you see the album cover, where the 55-year old appears to be shaming a nude woman into defrosting his fridge: nekkid ladies, he makes clear, are pretty. And look, I have the same enthusiasm for the unclad female form as every other heterosexual man, but Push the Sky Away is where Cave’s relatively recent horndog persona goes from being bold and entertaining (as per the first Grinderman album) to being as creepy as every other 50-something declaring that hey, sex is perfectly natural and why is everyone so hung up about it, man, before explaining how he and his wife are in an open relationship and so, do you swing?
Push the Sky Away is also, significantly, the first Bad Seeds album without founding member Mick Harvey and it’s tempting to suggest that his curatorial ear might have been especially useful this time around: several of the nine tracks sound as though they are little more than sketches for far better songs that never got the chance to emerge.
The subdued percussion and late-night vibe is in clear contrast to the demented rock of Grinderman or 2008’s lively Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! and if the somnambulant pace and nocturnal mood of the disc gives it a unified identity, it also makes for a one-dimensional listening experience. ‘We No Who U R’ is a subdued opener and first single, and while it lilts along pleasantly enough the text-speak title is the first hint that a household that includes two 12 year-old sons might be affecting Cave's pop-culture references.
‘Wide Lovely Eyes’ is a standard Cave ballad, made unusual by the insistent chunking of a muted electric guitar that ticks in the background like a stopwatch. The following ‘Waters Edge’ is driven by the relentless chug of the bassline while guitars, strings and piano wash over the top – in fact, it almost threatens to explode into ‘Tupelo’ (and that would absolutely kill as a segue live – just sayin’). Both of these songs are noteworthy for the way that the chugging guitars work at rhythmic cross-purposes to the rest of the song to unsettling effect; one used a lot – and, frankly, more successfully – on the last PJ Harvey album (which, unlike this, did feature Mick Harvey).
The album’s centrepiece is ‘Jubilee Street’, which sounds more like a Robert Forster song than something written by Cave (and the avuncular Forster is infinitely better able to pull off a line like “I’ve got love in my tummy, and a tiny little pain”), which seems to be a slight little strummer until layers and layers of strings kick in as the tempo slowly builds. It’s easily the finest song on the record, and even gets a footnote a few tracks later with ‘Finishing Jubilee Street’, which is Cave explaining a dream he had after finishing the song, over a rambling, at times improvised-sounding jam.
But back to vaginas: Cave’s always been driven by a lupine horniness as much as by madness and religious ecstasy and it touches most of Push the Sky Away. The difference this time around is the tone, which is less consumed by unquenchable desire and more snickeringly, leeringly juvenile. For example: ‘Water’s Edge’ speaks of boys that "Think long and hard about the girls from the capital / Who dance at the water’s edge / Shakin’ their asses”.
However: the ponderous ‘Mermaids’ contains Cave’s most grubbily asinine line ever with the opening “She was a catch / We were a match / I was the match that would fire up her snatch.”
Let's just repeat that: "I was the match that would fire up her snatch."
Then again, maybe it's better that Cave has been distracted by carnal concerns because his other new obsession is apparently popular science. ‘We Real Cool’ (yes, another text-speaky title) clumsily explains that “Sirius is 8.6 light years away / Arcturus is 37 / The past is the past and it’s here to stay / Wikipedia is heaven”, while Robert Johnson and the Devil are patiently educated about particle physics in the epic, shapeless ‘Higgs Boson Blues’. “Have you ever heard about the Higgs Boson Blues? / I’m gonna go down to Geneva, baby / I’m gonna teach it to you” are the clumsiest lines on the album for about three minutes before being usurped by “Hannah Montana / Does the African savannah”. This, from the man who wrote ‘The Mercy Seat’.
The fact that so many of Cave’s lyrics clang like a kettle falling down a stairwell wouldn’t be so big an issue if the music wasn’t so minimalist: there's nothing to distract the listener, leaving his words as naked and uncomfortable as the woman on the cover. Push The Sky Away isn’t just a disappointing album; it’s barely an album at all.
Push the Sky Away is out Fri Feb 15.