Under Review: Grinderman – Grinderman 2

The return of Nick Cave’s skuzzy side project, Grinderman, is both a welcome and a puzzling thing.  The first time around, the group (which features several of The Bad Seeds) was an outlet for Cave’s primal garage rock after a string of increasingly mature albums.  Grinderman wasn’t as brash as anything by, say, The Birthday Party, but it was still a blast of unhindered energy.  When the Bad Seeds got back together for Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, it was clear that Cave’s side band had turned around to greatly influence his proper one.  Now that the Bad Seeds were sounding more like Grinderman, how would the side project remain relevant?  Cave has described the simply-titled Grinderman 2 as having been more thoroughly planned out than its predecessor, which might not have been the best idea.  Grinderman thrived on jagged surprises and musical twists.  The title track, for example, smolders along for three-quarters of its duration before an atonal guitar solo crashes in.  While there are plenty of dynamic shifts on Grinderman 2, the stronger focus on atmospherics comes at the cost of memorable hooks.

The songs of Grinderman 2 are fewer in number but longer in running time, making for more rambling rather than incendiary statements.  Cave and the gang haven’t lost their touch at songwriting or arrangements, and enough of the songs stand out to make Grinderman 2 a joy.  “Evil” and “Worm Tamer” are two of the shorter, rawer songs that recall the best of Grinderman, while “Heathen Child” is by far the best of the longer tracks.  Just about all the songs in the Grinderman project are (or could be inferred to be) about really bad women.  The extended metaphor is put to best use in “Kitchenette,” with lyrics so innuendo-laden that the song ends up being about everything but an actual kitchenette.

Grinderman 2 sticks with a lot of the same instrumentation throughout, focusing on Cave’s growling organ and Warren Ellis’ distorted strings.  The couple of breaks from those forms, though, are not as well-executed as they could’ve been.  Where “Palaces Of Montezuma” is given a Stones-y feel thanks to Martyn Casey’s acoustic guitar and Jim Sclavunos’ tambourine hits, the unsettlingly minimalist “What I Know” never reaches the payoff it so threatens to approach.  More so than the first time around, Grinderman feels like a side project on Grinderman 2.  Still, it’s a damn great side project, as its members clearly put as much (and sometimes a little too much) effort into it as they do their main band.

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~ by E. on September 13, 2010.

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