People who write about pop music tend to see it mainly in terms of genre, melody and solos. All of which matter, but they can still leave us missing the point, because some records are all about atmosphere. There is a song on the 15th album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds that comes drenched in the stuff. It’s called "Mermaids", and it doesn’t so much begin as open fire on you, with a fusillade of erudite filth, all neatly rhymed. Then it veers into pathos, before ending up somewhere philosophical. Cave’s voice is atmospheric too, exuding an angry tenderness. Behind him, the Bad Seeds do very little—a curl of electric guitar here, an acoustic strum there, a gentle backing vocal and a shimmer of what could be seagulls. Not for nothing was the album recorded in a mansion in the South of France. The other tracks range from blazing to baffling, with a reluctance to use drums that seems a waste of such a visceral band, but "Mermaids" is the one that stays with you. And although Mick Harvey has now left, Cave and his gang still have a presence that makes hearing an album feel more like going to a gig. Oh to be in Sydney on Feb 26th-28th, when they play the Opera House. ~ Tim de Lisle
Push the Sky Away out in Europe Feb 18th, North America Feb 19th; North American tour, March 14th to April 3rd
ROCK AT A GLANCE
David Bowie (album, March 11th). His sudden comeback lit up early January. Now for his first album in a decade, "The Next Day". Tony Visconti, Bowie’s producer and papal nuncio, says it’s "quite a rock album", part "classic Bowie", part "innovative"; the sleeve designer calls it "contemplative".
Stooshe (album, March). The Spice Girls musical may be a dud, but their legacy lives on in this London trio, who radiate the same punchy charm, and rather more interest in music.
Bjork (Paris, Feb 21st to Mar 2nd). Iceland’s boldest stage presence—in a circus tent.
Tom Odell (album, April 15th; British tour, March 1st-12th). Amiable angst from the first male Critics’ Choice at the Brits.
Fleetwood Mac (American tour, April 4th). Celebrating 35 years of "Rumours", soft rock at its most artful. In concert, they are apt to go their own way. ~ TDL