Sunday, October 3, 2010

Grinderman- Grinderman 2

Nick Cave rarely disappoints, so it may sound unfair when I call Grinderman's debut one of 2007's best surprises. It was a surprise not in the sense of how good it was, but simply by its very existence. Had Cave wanted to release the music under his own name, or revive the Bad Seeds, he could have. But by designating a new side project for himself, it freed him to be as raucous and raunchy as he ever had, if not more so. Songs like 'No Pussy Blues' instantly codified the concerns of Grinderman (i.e. getting laid, rocking out), while others, like the title track or 'Man In The Moon', could have been recorded under his own name, though they would never have been conceived by Nick Cave as Nick Cave.

Many see this band as his mid-life crisis, and there is something about it that reminds me of the dirty old man persona of Charles Bukowski, as well as the early parts of Breakfast Of Champions where Kurt Vonnegut talks about how old men end up returning to an adolescent mind state, and includes many silly and vulgar crude drawings in the novel, like an anus, both connotations of a beaver, cows and hamburgers, etc. But I don't know that mid-life crisis is the right way to look at this band, just as according to Cave himself calling it a side project isn't true, either. What I'm getting at is, it took becoming Grinderman, and the Dionysian longings unleashed therein, to go from the usual work, best summarized as a romantic/poetic/intellectual/pious sort of longing, to get (back) to the animalistic/physical/pleasures-of-the-flesh/downright pagan sort of longing.

The difference between the first and second Grinderman albums is ably expressed by how the latter ends and the former begins. 'Love Bomb' draws to a close with (I assume) the Grinderman character so thin and sickly that when his lover tries to pick him up, her fingers go right through him. 'Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man', meanwhile, suggests a kind of vampiric/lycanthropic brother to the narrator, eventually corrupting both a female victim (“He sucked her dry”) and said narrator (“we took shelter under her body/and we sucked her and we sucked her and we sucked her dry).” From victim to victimizer, eh? But that suggests a rape-theme to Grinderman 2 that isn't there. Rather it's the frustration and desperation of the debut taken to the next stage, where Grinderman has had a taste but still wants more, realizing in the process that maybe things like romance and love do count. To put it another way, the cover of Grinderman is a masturbating animal, while Grinderman 2 is an animal on the prowl for more. It has a more expansive and searching take on the band's sound as a result, leading to extremes like the wealth of details on the meditative 'What I Know' as well as the full band psychedelic throwdown of album closer 'Bellringer Blues.' All the while, the band's secret asset isn't the songwriting or lyrics, but the instrumentation: a now iconic mix of distorted guitars, shrieking/wailing organs, Warren Ellis's bizarre electrified string instruments, and a punishing bass/drum engine room. If ever there were a band who could record the best cover of 'Sister Ray' possible, Grinderman is it.

Certain albums only make sense and reveal the full depth of their brilliance when you're in the proper state. I can't even hear Nico's The Marble Indexunless I feel depressed, vaguely haunted, or lonely-in-a-paranoid-way. Architecture In Helsinki's In Case We Die is a cloying, quixotic annoyance piece that I can't stand unless I'm in a good mood. Thus I don't think Grinderman 2 will completely make sense unless you're at least a little bit drunk, stoned, or sexually frustrated. 'Heathen Child', the album's first single and video, makes a good case for this. It's a very sensual, surreal song existing outside of the usual Western/Christian tropes, notably mentioning Allah and Buddah but skipping Jesus entirely. Elsewhere Cave delivers some of his most brilliant couplets yet, like “just how long you gunna be my baby?/until you come?” ('When My Baby Comes') and “the spinal cord of JFK wrapped in Marilyn Monroe's negligee/I give to you” ('Palaces Of Montezuma'). Though the offerings of the latter may be grisly according to our moral standards, to a wayward horny beast like Grinderman it's as romantic as you're liable to get.

If Grinderman concerned itself only with a single base desire, that of getting laid, then Grinderman 2 is the process of an animal coming to terms with the fact that, once one desire is sated, it only opens up a host of new ones. After all, a wolf knows how to have sex instinctively, but things like romance and intellectual/spiritual love aren't encoded in DNA. Hence odd displays of affection like 'Palaces Of Montezuma' that are analogous to pet cats leaving dead mice for you; it's the only currency they understand and can offer you. But I digress. Grinderman 2 may only amount to a four star album when you're straight and sober, but under the influence of booze, drugs, and/or sexual/romantic longing, it suddenly becomes your animal brother, inviting you to suck the blood of a victim, an act no longer as repellant as it used to be. If they won't love you, eat 'em; less competition in the survival of the fittest and you may as well fulfill one hunger.

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

1 comment:

Grape Suzette said...

Wow, yours is the most insightful (and entertaining) review that I've read of Grinderman 2, and I've read plenty. Greg Lytle, I do believe you understand Grinderman.