Monday, September 27, 2010

Music Review: Grinderman - Grinderman 2



Well, color me surprised: the last thing I’d expect from Nick Cave and his Grinderman project at this point in their still young career would be a grower. Which I guess is a nice way of justifying an album that immediately deflated any expectations I had for it while disclosing that the rating you see below started off a lot lower than how it now reads. Meaning, well, nothing more than I get the gnawing feeling that I put a whole lot more thought into the possibilities of this band then they probably do. In fact, I’m not sure if there is another modern rock band that I’m more on board with as far as aesthetic and thematic ideology is concerned. I just wish they would stay truer to these (presumably) prescribed beliefs, as outside of a few tracks on their now first two albums, I continue to find little to ultimately differentiate a Grinderman song from a Bad Seeds song. Which essentially should be fine since I like the Bad Seeds, but why even bother, then, to make the designation at this point?

I bring all this up, however, to more or less confess that “No Pussy Blues” is probably my personal favorite rock track of the last three years or so, and that everything else this band has released in the wake of their debut single has to these ears fallen well short of that admittedly lofty height. It certainly doesn’t help matters when the Bad Seeds go on to release the most aggressive album of their career (Dig!! Lazaruss!!! Dig!!!) immediately following the debut of this side project (the two bands share nearly identical lineups), but these Grinderman albums continue to more feel like vehicles for a handful of awesomely vile cock-rock explosions than fully formed albums, something that, paradoxically, Cave has been excelling at lately with the Bad Seeds.

With all that being said, the stupidly named Grinderman 2 starts off rather strong, and finishes as probably the more consistent of the two records (barely), while sadly lacking the invigorating high points that marked the self-titled. In fact, the album’s best track, “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man”, is its opener, and it’s just about as polar opposite of its title character’s persona as you could hope (extra points for Cave’s surprisingly appropriate abandonment of specifics at tracks end, instead falling back on his animal instincts and simply howling like a wolf). “Worm Tamer” follows and keeps things at a solid level, outlining a vaguely intimidating narrative involving a tough as nails man-eater who has presumably, ummm, tamed Cave’s worm. As you can see, the formula for a good Grinderman song is so simple—butt-rock riff, metronomic low-end, lyrics involving some part of the lower anatomy (male or female)—that’s it’s a wonder they ever deviate from the formula.

Penultimate track “Palaces of Montezuma” is one of the immediate standouts here, yet unfortunately earns that designation for all the wrong reasons. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fairly good song, but "good" in this case being based solely on the standards of the Bad Seeds. You could literally slot this into any of Cave’s records from the last twenty years and no one would bat an eyelash—and even by those standards it’s kind of fey. Lead single “Heathen Child” fairs better, but compared to its predecessor it sounds timid, almost afraid to go the extremes the band did on its debut. The two lowest points, however, sit right at the album’s center, and they’re nearly inverses of one another. “Evil” has the right idea, its slowing-roasting guitar churn acceptably sleazy, but accentuating an already one dimensional track with not much beyond the title phrase feels more lazy than provocative. “What I Know” is equally formless yet utterly, inexplicably toothless—I don’t want to be too crude, but this is Grinderman we’re talking about and I don’t want to hear any fucking acoustic guitar here.

Luckily, a couple of slow-burning anchors keep the record from sinking. “When My Baby Comes” slowly lurches to life, perhaps wandering around aimlessly for a little too long in its midsection, before unexpectedly galvanizing the whole experience with the record’s sickest low-end riff to close out the track (I literally keep going back to this one instance simply to experience the gravitational pull these guys can still muster from a basic rock band set-up). And finally, the record’s closer nearly matches its bookend, digging into a blues-derived strut that proves—just as “When My Baby Comes” had done before it—that hypnotic doesn’t have to mean tame while confidently composed doesn’t have to mean boring. It’s not even a matter of these other tracks not having an acceptable ratio of riffs to dick jokes—in fact, a number of these songs, particularly “Kitchenette”, are redeemed almost solely by their lyrics, though sadly nothing hits such perverse heights as "Get It On"—but that the band’s potential for destruction continues to seem only partly realized. Ultimately there is still enough here to slightly recommend, but like its predecessor, mileage from track to track on Grinderman 2 will unfortunately vary. [69/100] [Published 10.12.10]

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