One of the most beautiful and unsettling voices in popular music.
All my favourite singers have odd voices – Dylan, Cohen, Bonnie Prince Billy, Tom Waits, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone – but the opening sentence belongs to Nick Cave.
I was 18 in 1981. Skinny, naive and curious. I dressed like a Goth and went to parties with my mate James. He knew some of the band, Play Dead, and so I was introduced to Goth, post-punk or whatever it was. I enjoyed the dark corners, watching the heroin scene and the spike-haired rakes, so super-cool to me. It was in these corners that I first heard The Birthday Party, but it left me unmoved.
I was a Dylan fan in an era when it was desperately uncool to be so. James knew, and in his attic one night, he played me The Firstborn Is Dead by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. I was about to dismiss it as rubbish when he told me that Wanted Man was a Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash song, and that the album had been delayed while they secured Dylan’s permission for Cave to alter the lyrics.
Then I heard Kicking Against The Pricks and thought it was great, particularly The Singer. The romance and darkness beckoned.
It was 1990’s The Good Son that really reeled me in. The Ship Song inspired me to write my own songs, to learn D, G and C on the guitar.
Some of his compositions are truly awe inspiring and will be on my playlist til the end – Into My Arms, People Ain’t No Good, Red Right Hand, Straight To You, Where The Wild Roses Grow, Oh My Lord, and O Children, which is ridiculously good.
Aside from seeing him on TV with Shane MacGowan, duetting on Wonderful World, and reading that he likes Dylan, I know almost nothing about him.
He is from Australia and makes children’s choirs both cool and disturbing.
Today, I bought Push The Sky Away on iTunes.
‘Higgs Boson Blues’ is enunciated like Time Out Of Mind or Tempest Dylan.
Close-miked, deliberate consonants with a weary rattle and croak, but not so in-your-face. It gives it a claustrophobic tension that sounds great. Later, there’s a desperate howl of elongated vowels. Quite brilliant.
The music breaks down into a temporary quiet, and he relishes his rhymes. Then the rhythm guitar crashes into focus over the brushy drums and loops while Cave drives his car to Geneva.
The song ebbs into another quiet where he sees Miley Cyrus floating in a swimming pool and can’t remember anything at all about the best girl he ever had.
It ends as it started, with a simple, single electric guitar.
‘We No Who U R’
The bass guitar sounds perfect on this track. Deep, rich, lilting and tidal.
Like my favourite Cave songs, it is both hopeful and deeply sad. That is my kind of duality. I find it intoxicating, always have.
I am 50, and people I love are starting to die, so my attitude to life is changing. I am unimportant. Life will press on with or without me. The main joy and worry I have, is my little girl. I trust that she will be okay when I go but I will miss her light, her hope and passion.
I felt all that while I listened to the song. I’ve no idea if Nick Cave was thinking anything similar when he wrote it, but it doesn’t matter.
The text language of the title made me smile. I have an argument with people who frown upon the current fashion for abbreviated language. Language evolves and will change, despite frowns. Change is a natural occurrence. I’m sure that Shakespeare would find a way to write with beauty and meaning using textuage.
That simple, naked drum pattern. I could listen to that primal beat for a long time. The recording on this album is extraordinarily good. It takes skill and musical knowledge to record simple sounds so well.
These people deserve a big hand.
Nick Launay – production, recording, mixing
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – production
Kevin Paul – additional recording
Anna Laverty – additional recording, vocal engineer, recording assistant
Damien Arlot – recording assistant
Thomas Lefèbvre – recording assistant
Adam “Atom” Greenspan – mixing assistant
I like the story and the lyrics,
And a ten-ton catastrophe on a sixty-pound chain
And I’m pushing my wheel of love up on Jubilee Street.
I’ve never been too focused on meanings in songs. I really don’t care. I like images and suggestions.
I like to feel music, rather than make sense out of it. The end of the song is wonderful.
I am alone now
I am beyond recriminations
Curtains are shut
The furniture has gone
I am transforming
I am vibrating
Look at me now
Look at me now.
I love transformation and hope, and this song makes me think of that pairing.
‘Push The Sky Away’ is a whispered set of simple rhymes over a pulsing, floaty atmosphere. The hook is in the vocal, descending on the last word of each verse.
I’m a fan of simplicity and economy, and agree entirely with the song’s attitude and particularly the last verse:
And some people
Say it’s just rock’n roll
Oh, but it gets you
Right down to your soul
I believe that music is sometimes the sound of a human being (or beings) communing with the divine, with God, for want of a better word. I won’t bang that drum again, but, well, that’s what I feel about this song.
When you have written the amount of songs that Nick Cave has, and have proved yourself as a craftsman, it must surely be refreshing to see what happens if you set aside your favoured working methods.
No set time, no verse/chorus/middle/chorus, just an idea voiced on a cloud of keys. It’s not ambient. It’s more Scott Walker than Glass or Eno.
The word ‘filmic’ has been used a lot, but I think of this album, after the first listen, like a series of photographs on a wall. There’s something self-contained about each one. They have a life and mystery of their own. They are beautifully done, too.
I’m impressed and will play it often.
He’s a great singer and writer, is Mr Cave.