Saturday, 9 March 2013

Push The Sky Away

You’re going to have to bear with me, because, as the previous entry should have shown, it’s been a bloody long time since I’ve actually reviewed an album.

But you have to (re)start somewhere.

The problem is, however, that I’m going to review this album by not reviewing this album, in that I need to talk about the three issues that are getting in the way, i.e.
     1: The Southern Gothic Problem
-       2: The Richard Hawley Problem
-       3: The Amazon MP3 Embuggerance.

Of these problems, the first starts with a confession that will be really problematic; this is the first Nick Cave album I’ve ever bought. This is not to say that I wasn’t aware of his work before this, but that lack of knowledge ended up bringing a morass of preconceptions to listening to Push The Sky Away that made things alternate between interesting and bizarre.

I can give you three points of exposure to Cave in my past; Red Right Hand, used not only on Songs in the Key of X but also brilliantly – in my humble opinion – in Hellboy; The Ballad of Franny Lee by The Shirehorses), a parody that had me laughing while not knowing why; and Phonogram, which had a backup strip in the second volume describing a kind of latent misogyny in some of Cave’s work, among others, which I never followed up.

The Southern Gothic problem, then, is down to how I perceived Cave’s work without ever truly hearing it, a sin which I’m probably guilty of for many other artists. When you just give in to a cultivated image, instead of actually questioning it or analyzing it, that could be seen as a kind of passive enculturation –

And there goes the pretentious alarm.

Let’s step back. The Southern Gothic problem was that I assumed a lot about Cave’s music, and I decided to challenge that by actually, y’know, listening to a whole album, which brings us to the second problem. When I use the term Southern Gothic, too, I’m thinking of the way it was appropriated for television and literature in the 1990s (specifically within one of William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy books, and it’s bugging me that I can’t think which).

Part of the reason I picked Push The Sky Away for my glorious return to album reviewing is because I ‘discovered’ BBC 6Music about six months ago, and they’ve been playing Jubilee Street (and, to a lesser extent, We Know Who U R) on and off over the past month or so and, well, I was intrigued.
Intrigue is as good a place as any to start with this whole ‘getting back into album reviewing’ thing, because if you wanted me to write about something I have more experience of and a greater grounding in, well, this would be a review of the new Dido album. (Although, fact fans, that may be forthcoming.)

I wish I could say that I chose Push The Sky Away as an album for review because I wanted to challenge my preconceptions and maybe learn something new about not just myself, but music too –

Sorry, the pretentiousness alarm went off again.

But in all seriousness, I chose the album for review because I liked the singles which appear to have been chosen because they represent the kind of Nick Cave song that the average listener might expect and be able to immediately define as Nick Cave.

The rest of the album’s not like that, which is what threw me. Preconceptions, challenged. Reviewer, confused. Not least because of the second problem; 6 Music have also been playing the hell out of Don’t Stare At The Sun by Richard Hawley, which I only – in the last week – actually started to understand.

The first ten or so times I heard it I was set to thinking that there’s a thin line between heaven and here poetic and rambling, and that Don’t Stare erred on the side of rambling, Then, a few days ago, it ‘dawned’ on me that Richard Hawley sings – to my mind, and maybe nobody else’s – ‘Songs For People With Children’, and once that occurred to me, I started to actually see where he was coming from. (I’ve since bought the album, so there might be a review of that forthcoming, too.)

The problem is that once that was installed in the music section of my brain, the kind of dissonance in content and structure on Push The Sky Away was a bit overwhelming – you have the social parables of Jubilee Street, which sounds like a film pitch in song form, up against the This Is Hardcore-esque We Know Who U R, but then there’s all kinds of meta-songwriting with Finishing Jubilee Street and, to return to problem one, there’s an inconsistency that, while it works, I wasn’t prepared for; to expect one thing and then to have Cave rambling (well, rambling may be a bit unkind) about Hannah Montana / Miley Cyrus in Higgs Boson Blues was jarring.

I don’t have a mental filing cabinet sleeve that properly fits Nick Cave, is basically the problem.
All of which adds up to the fact that (a) I need to actually listen to more albums, (b) review more albums, (c) get back into music generally and (d) might not have been the best person ever to review Nick Cave, given that I’ve predicated my opinions on his music on what I thought I knew from what I’d been told rather than what I actually knew.

You live, you learn.

Water’s Edge is still a cracking song, though.


P.s. The Amazon MP3 Embuggerance isn’t a huge issue, but it makes me feel like a cro-magnon presented with fire for the first time; I don’t want the Amazon Cloud. I want to click and have the proprietary third-party software downloader put it straight into my iTunes folder.

Instead, I had to enter into a dialogue with the Amazon website to make it download the album at all – and when it did, I managed to get it to download the album three times in a row. Then I had to find the sodding thing, copy it into the iTunes folder, then open all the songs therein through iTunes before I could transfer it to my iPod.

A silly thing to be complaining about, but why make a system more complex when it previously just worked? We all know the answer, of course; Amazon want a share of that lovely iTunes direct market, instead of basically selling you the music on Amazon to play through a different program.

I don’t like it when technology makes me feel old, though. 

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