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Grinderman 2
Format: CD / LP / MP3
Release Date: September 14, 2010
By Robert Stribley April 25, 2011

On the heels of Skyscraper’s relaunch, we’ll be reviewing a number of records from mid-to-late 2010 that we missed out on covering during our semi-hiatus. Sort of a “what we missed” series of reviews, emphasizing both some of the best releases of 2010 and some of the year’s most interesting but overlooked records. This is one of those.

For Nick Cave and his conspirators, Grinderman serves as an outlet for their middle-aged id, allowing them to release all those suppressed urges that aging rockers are supposed to sublimate. They’re meant, you see, to channel that increasingly inappropriate energy into more productive work, like writing silken ditties, which can provide the soundtrack for luxury car advertisements. Alas, or rather, thankfully, Cave isn’t having it. Consequently, Grinderman 2 showcases some of his rudest, most ribald work yet.

Apparently, with Grinderman, the band created their own “Dogme 95” contract of sorts, except, for their purposes, the vows they took were “No God, no love, no piano.” The opener “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” makes those pagan intentions clear: it’s here “the big bad wolf” first appears, a time-honored stand-in for the predatory male. “He sucked her and he sucked her and he sucked her dry,” Cave snarls, and that’s a fitting introduction to where the album’s headed. It’s an adult fairy tale written by a leering professor working on his third doctorate, a sin and sex-soaked effort laced with well-worn yet still-treasured archetypes.

If you had any doubt about the double (single?) entendres in the first song, the gents follow up with the tawdry, panting “Worm Tamer,” which leaves little to the imagination: “Worm tamer,” “serpent wrangler,” these are names Cave bestows upon his beloved. In return, she bluntly complains that he’s the Loch Ness Monster: “Two great humps and then I’m gone.” But, no, he protests, he’s more an “Abominable Snowman,” and bemoans the fact that he’s “only happy when I’m inside her.” It’s that gleefully crass way of describing unrequited lust Grinderman captured so succinctly in “No Pussy Blues” on their eponymous album.

The man’s insatiable. “I stick my fingers in your biscuit jar / And crush all your gingerbread men,” Cave sings on “Kitchenette.” It’s all blues-drenched thump and testosterone, but Grinderman pulls off a balance between the two, where other efforts would prove laughable rather than amusing. So, too, on the vaguely disturbing “Heathen Child,” we’re repeatedly encouraged to picture a young woman seated in a bathtub, “sucking her thumb,” “having some fun.” And in case we’re having any difficulty imagining the fun she’s having, we’re told she’s “full of her fingers.” The bizarre accompanying video manages to depict these themes, showing a young woman in a milky bath, while a wolf stalks her opulent modernist home. Cave and crew appear in all their horrific, hilarious, half-naked hairiness, shooting lightning bolts from their eyes. It’s a rich, bawdy exercise in absurdity with constant call-outs to mythic touchstones. We’re assured some literary continuity, too: turns out the girl’s waiting for the Wolfman and aforementioned Abominable Snowman to come.

In case you think this album arrives as little more than a cavalcade of sordid singles, the tender side of Cave does arise. The string-laden “When My Baby Comes” could’ve appeared on his double masterwork Abbatoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus (Mute/Anti-, 2004), though, even here, the band ensures the song builds into something more suitably abrasive, eventually transmogrifying into a psychedelic freakout. Then you tune into the lyrics closely, only to realize the song’s apparently about the rape of a young girl, as recounted by a mad-house resident. Each of Cave’s obsessions are on display: hospitals, madness, guns, religion – all in one gloriously ragged, rambling song. Of course, this band wants to ensure a bumpy ride for us. Elsewhere, the disarmingly softened “What I Know” is interrupted by the shrieking, industrial “Evil.” A highlight, “Palaces of Montezuma” features a bizarre litany of iconic call-outs, all gifts from the narrator to his beloved, including “a custard-colored super dream of Ali McGraw and Steve McQueen” and “the spinal cord of JFK wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee.” We’re not sure whether to be touched or horrified, but that’s the beauty of Nick Cave and what makes him stupendously vibrant and still engaging at 53.

In all, the lads (the dads?) toss off nine songs here, most of them denser, lyrically richer, more impassioned than most bands will labor over in their brief flash of calculated, strictly-marketed careers. As for those vows, Grinderman fails miserably: God and love (or at least lust) are slathered everywhere. Nick Cave must be utterly incapable of crafting an entire album devoid of deities and reckless devotion. God love him.

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