Album Review: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away

Anyone who knows me, or even anyone who doesn’t really know me but reads this blog has to understand how much I absolutely love and adore Nick Cave. Nick Cave the musician, the writer, the actor, the poet, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Grinderman, The Birthday Party… I feel like I have spent most of my life listening to Nick Cave, reading Nick Cave, seeing Nick Cave in concert and so forth. I literally wait for every new album with baited breath, knowing full well that I will never be disappointed. Granted, there are a few albums that I listen to less than others, but I’ve never disliked anything that he and the Bad Seeds have ever produced.

February 18th, 2013 has been outlined in red on my calendar ever since the release date of the 15th studio album, Push the Sky Away was published. My Christmas gift from my brother last year was a pre-order of the limited edition deluxe version of the album (that I hope will arrive tomorrow). I had already previewed the album when it was streaming on NPR Radio last week, but I spent this morning in bed listening to it and taking notes, not wanting to leave the universe that the Bad Seeds had yet again created for me. Listening to this album brings me right back to the same emotions and feelings I had when I first listened to No More Shall We Part back in 2001 (emotions that I still feel every time I listen to it). Happiness, sadness, laughter, pain, intensity, lightness, heartbreak, love; an emotional turmoil that doesn’t leave you until well after the album is over, one that you want to revisit as many times as possible.

If you watch the short making of video that comes with the album download you learn that for this album the band took a different direction than they were used to taking. Instead of creating the songs in the usual Bad Seeds manner, this time Nick Cave would write the lyrics without any type of chords or music in mind, and would bring them to the band to create songs with. On the first listen you can tell that the make-up and creation process was a lot different, and there is an element of surprise (good surprise), but then it feels normal, like an organic process in the band, a new era in the Bad Seeds life, one that works excellently. This is yet another reason why I love this band so much – they never use what has always worked for them in the past and continue along the same route in order to sell records. Instead they surprise themselves and their audience and never give up on enhancing their creation process and the quality of their art. That said, the album may sound different, but it definitely still has that Bad Seeds sound that I love so much.

Every Bad Seeds album has its own underlying theme and Push The Sky Away is no different. A lot of the stories that each song is composed of are based in Brighton (which also happens to be where Nick Cave resides nowadays). I can conjure up images of the seaside in the winter and summer, grey skies and bright sun, and via the recurring water metaphors that can be found in most songs I feel both at peace but also thrown around and churned up by rising swells.  At first glance the entire album sounds stripped down, especially if compared to the previous release, Dig, Lazurus, Dig!!!, but that is quite deceptive. Each song is a story backed by intricate string loops, bass lines, drum beats and background vocals. I feel that at times Warren Ellis creates an element of fear with his strings, but other times the sounds are comforting and warm, at times creating a dissonance with the lyrics, at other times matching the mood entirely.

“The past is the past and it’s here to stay” – We Real Cool

I have no favourite song as of right now, I am still letting the entire album create its permanent imprint on my brain and heart, but a few stand out after the first few listens. Jubilee Street exists in every town and city and everyone can relate to the lyrics and to the sadness the music evokes. The video is stunning too, dark and blurry and probing. 

“You wave and wave with wide lovely eyes, Distant waves and waves of distant love, You wave and say goodbye” Wide Lovely Eyes

Often I feel like I am sitting in a room with Nick Cave and all of the Bad Seeds, and a few other people, drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and listening to him tell us about the dream he had last night, embellishing it with metaphors and images of water, of human nature, of death and decay and ultimately of beauty. Higgs Boson Blues seems to encapsulate the entire feeling of the album in words. The song creates a web of folklore, word play, gloomy, gory stories punctured through-out with mentions of culture, pop culture, history, religion and anti-religion. I love how this song just builds up and makes you feel uncomfortable but completely at ease at the same time. 

“Rainy days always make me sad”  - Higgs Boson Blues

The final song on the album, Push The Sky Away resonates with hope within despair, an image of survival . This song makes me cry, just because it’s so true: “You've got to just, Keep on pushing, Keep on pushing, Push the sky away”. It’s the perfect ending to the album, lifting you up with the beautifully eerie violin sounds, and leaving you feeling elated and ready to take on another day. 

There are really no other words that can evoke the beauty of this entire album, the only way to really experience it is to listen to it and let it take you wherever you need it to take you. My love for Nick Cave will never dwindle, especially as he continues to make me feel this way through his music, and never fails to do anything else. I know I am not alone in thinking this… An ongoing inspiration in my life.

Music: Muse, The 2nd Law and the rest

(This was supposed to be a review of the new Muse album, but I ended up just getting really Muse-nostalgic, so it is what it is…)

Back in what must have been 1999 one of my oldest friends in England, and as obsessed with music as I am, asked me if I had heard of this new band called Muse, because he thought that I would like them. Seeing as everything took a million years to get to France at the time he sent me a couple of EPs and their first studio album, Showbiz. He was SO right, for the next few months I was so obsessed with the album that I would play it over and over again, making all my friends fall in love with them too. There was one epic moment that I will always remember, going up to Chamrousse for the day to ski, 6 of us squashed in the car, driving back down to Grenoble on the (scary) roads right as the snow started to fall, listening to the album full blast and singing along to it, not knowing if we were going to stay on the road or plunge into the darkness down the side of a mountain. Once their second album, Origin of Symmetry, came out (which I bought immediately, including all the CD singles that came out with it), I think it was played in my apartment at least once a day, if not more, especially when we had parties and everyone demanded to listen to it once we were all drunk and/or stoned.

In any case, whenever I listen to Showbiz and Origin, even today, years later, it reminds me of my room in the apartment I shared in Grenoble with Maud, going to classes when we felt like it, writing papers and eventually that thesis, having parties in the apartment with copious amounts of beer and cigarettes and “vin chaud” that we would make on the stove with the cheapest red wine we could find (I still don’t know how we even drank the stuff, the fact that it was warm must have made it more bearable…). I can walk around the streets of New York listening to the songs and place myself right back there, with the same people, the same emotions and the same feelings. It’s always incredible how music never fails to be able to do that. I still play their cover of Feeling Good over and over again (the same song Nina Simone beautifully covered decades ago) when I’m feeling down and need something to remind me of happy times and places. And then I kind of lost interest when they released Absolution. I listened to it many times, but it never gave me the same feelings as the first two albums. When Black Holes and Revelations came out in 2006 I didn’t even bother to buy it, but the first single from the album, Supermassive Black Hole, seemed to follow me all around my 2 week tour of France and Italy, and I couldn’t help falling in love with it. They appeared to be making changes to their style, becoming louder and more on the progressive side of rock than just regular indie rock, creating music that should be seen performed in huge outdoor stadiums rather than mid-size venues. But to be honest, I don’t think I gave the album much time because I can’t really remember listening to it very often.

And then The Resistance was released in 2009. I listened to it over and over again on my ipod, walking to meet my friends for dinner, on the subway to work. More rock opera than anything, it just sounds SO good when you listen to it all in one go, especially when you are walking around the streets of New York. Uplifting and somewhat depressing at the same time, depending on the colour of the sky and the temperature of the wind hitting you. But I honestly can’t reconcile the Muse from 1999 with the Muse of today – they are like two different entities in my mind. Two different bands from different times. 

I was a little wary when I downloaded the most recent release, The 2nd Law. There was no way they were going to strip back again and go back to a less ambitious, sometimes over-the-top style (although that could be a good idea for a next album?). I was worried that it would be even more over-the-top than the predecessor, and on the first listen I realised I was right. Standing on the subway platform, waiting for the train, it hit me that I was either going to admit I loved it, or delete the download after the first listen because I was actually embarrassed about listening to it. I went with the former.

It’s SO over-the-top. But it actually works for some reason I can’t really explain. It’s definitely a follow on from The Resistance in both style and lyrics – while the previous album was all about rising up and taking back our lands and laws, The 2nd Law is about entering a new era post-revolution and surviving it. At times they sound like Queen, at times like Laibach (especially Survival), sometimes like Marillion, sometimes like the other Muse from before, sometimes like something else with a lot of classical opera influences. But in the end it all comes together as a whole and just works. I just don’t see how they can play each song separately live – I can only see the album as a whole rather than a set of separate songs that can be played between other songs from other albums. I guess that just comes from the whole thing feeling like a rock opera based on the ideas of utopia and dystopia and human nature and progress and downfall. It would be a great soundtrack to that book I recently read and wrote about here, America Pacifica.

I still haven’t seen them live, which I regret and don’t at the same time. Maybe this year… I’m a little obsessed with this album right now, I just can’t stop listening to it.

Music: Smashing Pumpkins - Oceania

 Siamese Dream will always remind me first of myself at 16, sitting, actually more lying, on the couch in our living room in Sassenage, France, and listening to the whole album full blast and wishing I could make music like that. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness will always bring me back to myself at 17, working in a supermarket in England just after , and wishing I were back home in France. It’s funny because for the first year I only really listened to the first CD, and then slowly got to love the second one too, when I finally gave it more time. Adore reminds me of going to Lyon from Grenoble on a day trip with my friend Daphne and buying the album on the day of its French release there, just because I had to have it as soon as it came out. Gish and Siamese Dream are confusion and revelation; Mellon Collie is anger and love and Adore is change and some kind of twisted hope. And then… Nothing. To be honest, I don’t think I have ever listened to Machina/The Machines of God. I certainly didn’t rush out to buy it when it was released, and I remember promising a friend at university I would give it a try, but I never did. This doesn’t mean I stopped listening to the Smashing Pumpkins, just that in my mind they had already broken up. It's just that the Pumpkins are completely nostalgia music for me. And then they came back again, released Zeitgeist, which isn’t a bad album to be honest, and I finally got to see them live, with my sister in Atlantic City in 2008 (I think?!). The show was amazing, even if only 2 of the original members were still in the band.

In the same way that Courtney Love just irritates me nowadays, Billy Corgan makes me want to sigh in exasperation. The guy’s ego is larger than life and he just never seems to know when to shut up. I’m not interested in hearing his jabs at other musicians and music (Radiohead? Really? What have Radiohead ever done to merit Billy Corgan’s loathing?). I listened to Zeitgeist quite a few times in 2008, but to be honest, I don’t know any of the songs off by heart, not like I do with the first 4 albums. So when I heard that the Pumpkins were reforming once again (with only Billy from the original line-up remaining), I kind of just smirked and then forgot about it. That said, while I was waiting to board my flight to California last week I was reading through some blogs I follow on a regular basis, and came across this very positive review of a recent SP show on Fucking Nostalgic. The first sentence of the review caught my attention (especially coming from someone who has never hidden his dislike for Billy Corgan), and made me actually want to listen to the new album, Oceania, to see if it really was all that.

It is. It all fits together perfectly – in essence a matured version of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie if they had been released as one album. All about love, love lost, nature, divinity and higher powers. A release of some sort, soaring music that picks up and goes on and on, clashing, jarring guitars, flowing back together to create melody from noise. The signature Pumpkins sound is definitely still there (even without hearing Corgan’s voice you know right away that it’s them), but there is something else I can’t completely put my finger on just yet. Maybe it’s just that Corgan has finally found a line-up that works for him, and he’s actually letting them bring their own sounds to his own. In any case, that’s what it sounds like, and I wouldn’t want to analyse Billy Corgan’s thought process too much to find out the real reason. Despite everything I think about him, he still is super talented. He was a big part of the success of Hole’s Celebrity Skin album (which I still love, however polished it may happen to be), and however big his ego seems to have grown over the past decade, he has still managed to release an excellent album that I will probably be listening to all summer. It’s OK, you can still despise the artist and love what he/she produces. I just wish he would let his music speak for itself instead of opening his gob to talk bullshit about other very talented musicians that he was probably inspired by at some point.

You can listen to Oceania for yourself on Spotify HERE. Enjoy.

Music: Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas

I’m a little delayed on writing this one. I’ve listened to it many times since it began streaming on NPR, and then when it was released on January 31st. One of my most anticipated albums for months, I feel like the music world has been blessed with both excellent new releases by both Tom Waits (Bad As Me late last year) and now Old Ideas by Leonard Cohen.

The lyrics of Going Home, “Going home without my sorrow, going home sometime tomorrow, going home to where it's better than before” are just so simply beautiful. Take off everything that weighs you down and disguises you and walk free towards home, wherever home may be. Death? Maybe. Another world or life? Maybe.

I grew up on Leonard Cohen, quite literally. I inherited all of the old vinyls from my father, stepfather and mother (now in my lovely brother’s care), and have turned to his music and lyrical poetry so many times in my life that I don’t think I could even remember why. Famous Blue Raincoat and Chelsea Hotel #2 conjure up images of sad, rainy and grey days in New York City, walking up Park Ave from the subway, trying to rid myself of the constant heartache I was feeling at the time. Everybody Knows remind me of a trip back from Bodega Bay with my brother, the song starting minutes after we had both told each other stories that neither had managed to tell each other before. Dark roads, unknown secrets and Leonard’s soothing voice keeping us going towards the next destination. First We Take Manhattan takes me back to England in the 80’s, in our old flat by the churchyard, not knowing why certain events had happened and how I was ever going to forget or forgive them from happening. I could go on for hours…

I have seen Leonard Cohen perform just once in my life, and it will still remain the best show I have ever been to. Radio City Music Hall in May 2009. Over 3 hours of an absolutely amazing performance. This is all I could say on my blog back then, and I think I will keep it at that right now:

“Leonard Cohen was amazing - I am still in awe of him and his performance on Saturday night. I really can't describe the feeling of seeing someone you have pretty much admired and adored all of you life, performing in front of you. So I am not even going to try. I will keep the jumble of superlatives stuck in my head and leave it up to you to imagine.
Leonard Cohen. On stage. Yes.”

So, Old Ideas. Another wonderful collection of Leonard’s poems and music, not that I expected anything less. His voice alone has the tendency to reduce me to automatic tears when I hear it, and surround me with memories, despair and much hope, and this album does exactly that. Although low-key in sound, it is never simple, on the contrary it is full of metaphors for death, God, spirituality, love, despair and hope. Somehow it feels like an end to something, not as much the end of life, but maybe a final chapter in a life, the emphasis being on the article “a”. The background singers sound like angels, and the occasional use of an organ and the simple guitar sounds bring calm and serenity to the words that go from bleak to self-deprecating to even happy at times. Ten beautiful songs that each tell a story in the usual Cohen style. Just listen to it and dream – I know you won’t be disappointed.

Leonard Cohen Official Website

Leonard Cohen on Facebook

“You know it really is a pity, the way you treat me now; I know you can't forgive me but forgive me, anyhow. The ending got so ugly, I even heard you say, "You never ever loved me but could you love me anyway?" I dreamed about you, baby, you were wearin' half your dress I know you have to hate me but could you hate me less? I've used up all my chances and you'll never take me back But there ain't no harm in askin', "Could you cut me one more slice?” from Anyhow

Tori Amos - Night Of Hunters - album review

I have been listening to the new Tori Amos album on NPR Music's First Listen player this week and have actually been hesitating about giving my opinion on it. The first time I listened to it I just felt mildly irritated, all the way through, but it could have just been because I wasn't really in the mood for Tori Amos. The problem is that I felt the same niggling feeling of irritation every time I put the album on again.

I'm a little conflicted about this because conceptually it should really work: Tori's gorgeous voice and lyrics combined with beautiful chamber music should be an instant win. But there is something that just doesn't work in it for me. I just want to fast-forward to another song. I can't even find one song that stands out for me over the rest.

There is one part that I thought was pretty cool: Tor's daughters both make appearances on the album (vocals), mainly her eldest daughter who ha

I actually feel terrible giving this a bad review, just because Tori was really one of my favourite artists growing up. Maybe I just need to just give up on this one for myself.

The album is goign to be released in the US on September 20th.

Tori Amos official website