Not long ago, Grinderman would have been redundant. Nick Cave’s side project covers much of the same boisterous and bawdy terrain that the Birthday Party covered in the early 1980s and the Bad Seeds covered in years since. But the first band disbanded in 1983, and the Bad Seeds have honed their sound to a sophisticated point, becoming one of the best and most dexterous thinking man’s bands in rock and roll today.
So neither band allows the Aussie rabble-rouser Cave to get into the trippily dark subject matter that he once mined so effortlessly. Hence, Grinderman—a quartet featuring Cave, violinist/beard aficionado Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey, and drummer Jim Sclavunos. They unveiled their self-titled debut in 2007, with a leadoff single whose name is not printable. It was an explosive, scabrously noisy album about sexual frustration and gutter desires, as if Cave was trying to outdo his younger self.
Grinderman 2 builds on that mission, with Cave and crew at their most brazen and badass. The main motivator behind these songs remains thwarted desire, and brashly lewd is still the band’s default setting. The quartet work to make 2 sound as wantonly delirious as possible, like cock rock warped and twisted by too much pent-up lust.
Unbidden by the Bad Seeds’ sophistications, Cave toys with taboos and subverts typical machismo. On “Heathen Child,” he praises a young woman who savagery makes her all the more desirable, playing with and ultimately parodying the dark obsession with the Other. And throughout 2, he continually self-flagellates, as if self-deprecation might be the ultimate aphrodisiac. On “Worm Tamer,” he sings this line with gleeful self-loathing: “My baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster, two great big humps and then I’m gone.”
As ever, Cave is as witty as he is lascivious, as if sexual dissatisfaction actually hones the mind rather than muddies it. He’s a sharp lyricist, even if he delivers those words in a hoary gnarl. “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” lambasts the current vampire craze by channeling all the malevolence and craving possible, and Cave makes a chorus of counting down hotel floors with all the tension of an action sequence.
As brash as they may be, Grinderman still manage to contrast the rowdier conflagrations with softer, quieter moments like “What I Know” and the first part of “When My Baby Comes,” which thrum with deviant insecurities and half-whispered come-ons. And the backing ooohs on “Palaces of Montezuma” make a deceptively soft backdrop for Cave’s twisted take on twentieth-century pop culture, as if he’s burning Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” at the stake. Despite such niceties, 2 is obviously not for the faint of heart or the weak of spirit, but for the dirty of mind and unsound of body.
In Grinderman’s back-alley world, that’s just about everybody.
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