Music Reviews

posted: September 13, 2010

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Grinderman Grinderman 2

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Grinderman

Nick Cave’s world isn’t anything like yours or mine. It’s flush with creatures real and imagined: Mickey Mouse, the Abominable Snowman, the Wolfman, the Loch Ness monster, heathens, warring brothers, and dangerous women of all imaginable stripes. Jonathan Goldsmith, Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World,” has nothing on the Aussie native.

Around his rich assembly of characters and creations, the singer/guitarist/organist constructs outlandish tales of mayhem and mercy, desperate pleas for love and deliverance, possessive threats of desire and destruction. And around these, his simpatico cohorts in Grinderman—the rambunctious quartet comprised of Cave and three of his mates from the Bad Seeds, which initially assaulted senses in 2007 with its self-titled, distortion-raining debut—wrap voodoo storms of pounding rhythm, random noise, and undulating melody in seemingly free-form albeit sophisticated manners that extend the wild, severely neglected traditions established by musical personalities such as Howlin’ Wolf, Captain Beefheart, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Hysterical, humorous, volatile, surprising, and liberating, Grinderman 2 epitomizes what rock and roll should be but seldom is—a Wild West of ideas, sounds, sex, menace, rawness, and fun.

Picking up where the band’s initial offering left off, the sophomore effort claims improved songwriting, looser structures, and greater diversity—a trifecta of accomplishments that rarely come together. Multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey, and percussionist Jim Sclavunos respond to Cave’s narrative sprees with a lavish spread of mangled effects, chords, beats, and grooves. Guitars double as meat grinders, clogged drains, ray-gun lasers, and rusty radiators. Ellis’ Mandocaster, flute, bouzouki, and violin create chamber havoc, his scratches, plucks, drones, and ploinks contributing to a new sonic vocabulary. Casey’s tractor-pulling bass contributes resistance and foundation, stringing up innocent victims while allowing plenty of room for spontaneous interaction and come-what-may peril. Sclavunos takes a jazzy approach to his trapkit, refusing to abide by any rule and playing by feeling rather than following a given beat. Songs resound with post-punk bite, bluesy bluster, unbuttoned looseness, and wailing intensity.

Better still is Cave’s way with words—and unchecked libido. He seizes every opportunity to tease out phrasings, howling and moaning vowels and consonants, stretching out as if he’s become a rabid animal inspired by the glow of a full moon. He brings persuasive glee and mercurial personality to his murderer’s row of devilish protagonists, welcoming the madness, yearning, and lust with an assortment of voices. He shivers on the intimate, minimalist “What I Know,” capturing uncertainty with scary intent. He’s a demon shouter on “Evil,” on which children are tossed into a heap. And he’s a mercenary on “Bellringer Blues,” an intoxicating psychedelic romp rooted in Eastern modalism and backward loops.
However, nothing bests the singer when his mind focuses on the opposite sex. Females in Cave’s songs are often powerful, emasculating, mysterious, attractive—qualities that prove irresistible. He’s in love with a lightning-cracking snake charmer on the eerie, rumbling, sex-driving “Worm Tamer,” and not surprisingly, the narrative’s femme fatale serpent wrangler is immune to his boasts. The girl in the creeping “Heathen Child” plays with guns, powder, and poison while sucking on her thumb in the bathtub; Cave cautions that no form of protection works against her spell. More pistols, pistols, and guns greet “When My Baby Comes,” which features Cave in full-on crooner mode, completely conscious that he’s about to lose his object of affection at any moment. “Kitchenette” is the most twisted courtship song since Elvis Costello’s “I Want You,” replete with sleeping executioners, Oprah on the plasma television, and a prowling-by-the-back-door Cave throttling the protagonist’s husband while sending the kids down the street. “It’s getting hard to get my act together,” he says, almost as an aside, attempting to maintain the fragile balance between suitor and solicitor. He’s a man on a mission, and Grinderman’s conviction makes plain that these songs aren’t intended as novelty items in spite of the inherent humor.

Just to be sure, Grinderman delivers “Palaces of Montezuma,” a devotional soul song flush with serious romance—and impossible promises. “A custard-colored super dream of Ali McGraw and Steve McQueen?” “The spinal cord of JFK wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee?” Along with shots of blasphemous energy, mushroom clouds of nasty garage rock and noise-drenched funk, and deranged art-punk, Cave and Co. give it you all in spades. Get it on

–Bob Gendron