After 30 years together and 15 albums, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds scored their first No 1 album in New Zealand this week with Push the Sky Away. Though that's probably one of the more minor career highs on Mr Cave's accomplished CV (although his books could do with a bit of work), to have music as beautiful, dark, and fascinating as this at the top of the charts is something special.
It is arguably the band's most accessible work to date. For starters, there are no venomous, fiery songs like those on 1988's Tender Prey that fans will be able to break out some high kicks to. Push the Sky Away is soothing and hypnotic, yet somehow still weird, wonderful, and baffling.
The best song, Jubilee Street, is almost middle-of-the-road by Cave's standards - until near the end of its six-and-a-half minutes, when it starts to escalate as if an entire orchestra has just joined in the jam.
And it's such a good song that Cave even wrote a tune about writing it, the equally brilliant Finishing Jubilee Street.
It is the first album not to feature guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey, a key Bad Seed for many years who was sacked in 2009 (he is doing a solo tour in New Zealand during March). Though other Bad Seeds members have contributed to songwriting in the past, on this album Cave and Warren Ellis, the crazy violinist-cum-mad-multi-instrumentalist who collaborates with Cave on film soundtracks (most notably the score to The Proposition) and the restless and volatile Grinderman records, are the almost exclusive songwriting team.
Where last album Dig, Lazarus Dig! from 2008 was a more diverse and dynamic party record, Push the Sky Away is intimate, beautifully quiet music. It's almost too understated and subtle to be as brilliant as it is because it moves along at such a dreamy, simmering pace. A track like Wide Lovely Eyes is a lightly levitating mantra rather than anything resembling a song, and Ellis' influence is all over the haunting Water's Edge, with woozy strings and a dark, rumbling loop throughout.
Cave's strong baritone and typically lovely yet loopy lyrics bolster the songs. There are lines about the girls down by the water "shaking their arses", which he delivers with mouth-watering menace, then the dark beauty of lines like, "It's the will of love, it's the thrill of love, ah but the chill of love is coming on, people" from Water's Edge.
But most bizarre of all is Higgs Boson Blues where he takes off on an eloquent ramble (as only Cave can) about everything from missionairies with smallpox and pygmies eating monkeys to Robert Johnson and the devil's "killer groove"; and Hannah Montana "doing" the African savannah. What it's all about? Who knows (yet, anyway), but like the rest of the album it sure makes for some intriguing listening.
Verdict: Easy listening, Cave style
Click here to buy Push The Sky Away by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.