I’m intimidated by the thought of writing about Nick Cave. There’s something so serious about an artist as complex and celebrated as he is. He’s been performing for decades. He has a dedicated, sophisticated fan base. He invites and inspires extremely thoughtful criticism with every new project.
I can write about Grinderman 2, however. It’s a noisy, kick-ass rock record, and I know my way around that kind of thing.
The opening song, “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” is a perfect choice to start the record. The rhythm section is strikingly reminiscent of the Jesus Lizard’s finest moments, the guitar playing is vicious, and the vocals are pure Cave. I recently cranked this up on the hi-fi after a bad day at work and it absolutely delivered me from evil. At least, a certain kind of evil. (The Song “Evil” is also a 100mph banger.) This is not a morally righteous collection of songs. Sex, Lechery and Violence are front and center in this band. Nick Cave and AC/DC are from the same country after all.
Of course, being a Cave project, there’s a lot more to it than that. Consider the band name. Contrary to popular imagery, the Grindermen of years past did not depend upon the gratitude of a music-loving public for their livelihood. They sat in one place with those fucking music boxes and tortured everyone in the listening area until their suffering audience finally paid up. They were notorious for doing it at night, underneath apartment buildings. They were finally outlawed.
The Grinderman songs conjure up lots of unwelcome, undesirable thoughts. Monsters are rampant, victims are found, and the lust is selfish and possessive. It comes to a head during “Kitchenette”. Cave sings his horniness to a married woman. Her husband, the sleeping “executioner”, is “sleeping with a fireman’s axe”. The narrator is not exactly a knight in shining armor; he reminds the hapless wife that she has “the ugliest fuckin’ kids I’ve ever seen”. The men in her life leave much to be desired.
But by the next song, “Palaces of Montezuma”, Cave seems to have faced up to the intolerable Grinderman who dominates the first seven songs of this album. In a beautiful, Bad Seeds-sounding “psychedelic invocation”, Cave exorcizes the monstrous side of his desire and asks for “precious love to hold”. He seems to have found some serenity.
The final song on the album, “Bellringer Blues”, loops psychedelically towards the conclusion that the haunted, anxious Cave can ultimately manage all of this stuff just fine, thank you, and he is willing to do it on his own terms. He ends the album singing, “It’s okay Joe it’s time to go!”
With Grinderman 2, Nick Cave and his band have recorded a challenging, provocative collection of well-written, well-performed rock ‘n’ roll songs. It looks stripped down and primitive, but it ain’t. It’s actually pretty amazing.