Grinderman 2

Rating: 4.4/5.0

Label: Anti-

In 2003, Nick Cave detonated his love song era when he closed Nocturama, arguably the worst album of his storied career with “Babe, I’m On Fire,” a nearly 15 minute long salvo featuring a cast of Papists, rapists and sweet little Goths with ears of cloth. More than end a period of mournful ballads, “Babe, I’m On Fire” signaled a shift in Cave’s character from gloomy lover to lascivious lecher. Of course, old habits die hard and songs such as “Easy Money” and “O Children” on Abbatoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus still matched the vein of mid-period Cave. But a deviousness that informed his older work began to creep into his songs again. Cave sang about his hand down panties and “Breathless” featured tongue-in-cheek instrumentation like fluttering flutes that had vanished with 1997’s The Boatman’s Call.

In 2007, Cave formed side project Grinderman with Bad Seeds Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos. Tagged as “foul-mouthed, noisy, hairy and damn well old enough to know better,” the Grinderman iteration of Cave saw the singer sprout a porn mustache, pick up the guitar and kick out any inhibitions on songs like “Get It On” and “No Pussy Blues,” getting down and dirty with a ferociousness that matched the bloody glory of “O’Malley’s Bar.” It’s just what Cave needed, a chance to put his dick in the seamy underside of garage rock, and helped him write his 2008 masterpiece Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, a near perfect amalgamation of this return to the slimy streets of his youth and the mature songwriting of the late ’90s/early ’00s. Somewhere along the way, Cave moved from cult figure to indie music godfather, earning him frequent coverage on blogs that normally eschewed older figures of the establishment.

Grinderman proved to be more than a one-off lark, as the quartet returns with the imaginatively titled Grinderman 2. Bigger, bolder and better than its predecessor, Grinderman 2 is Cave at his most lecherous, featuring nine full-blooded cuts that fit in with some of the best songs of his career. Like Jim Morrison’s “Back Door Man,” Cave’s Grinderman persona is the skuzzy transient who is not only fucking your wife while you’re away at work, but is also banging away at your teenage daughter as her friends videotape. Then he’ll fuck them too.

After some quiet noodling on the guitar, Grinderman 2 bursts into erect fury with the driving “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man.” “I woke up this morning/ I thought what am I doing here?” Cave asks before the song takes off into a menacing, choogling rocker as the narrator and his brother suck their female victim dry. Even stranger is the wry “Worm Tamer,” a litany of phallic double entrendre sung over a clattering rhythm section and swirling organ that nudges the tune into psychedelic territory. Cave has never been as out and out droll, keeping a straight face while singing lines like, “Well my baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster/ Two great big humps and then I’m gone.”

While the narrator of Tender Prey’s “Watching Alice” was happy enough to simply watch his quarry dress for work, many of the protagonists in Grinderman 2 are not content to just sit back like simple voyeurs. Of course, the comedic lyrics lack the sad menace of “Alice,” especially when Cave evokes the Wolfman and the Abominable Snowman. Over Ellis’ freaky bouzouki, Cave’s lyrics even references “Deanna” when sings, “Poor little Moo Moo/ Papped and Monroed/ Got a little powder/ Got a little gun/ Sitting in the bathtub” on lead single “Heathen Child.” But instead of eating out of pantries with her wild lover, poor little Moo Moo is still waiting for that bad boy to come.

While these fiery rockers will thrill those familiar with the first Grinderman record, it’s the parts where Cave and company get adventurous that really push Grinderman 2 into greatness. The nearly seven minute “When My Baby Comes” builds from simple rock song to a droning cacophony of noise, a simmering mélange of strange sounds and randy longing. But it’s “What I Know” that is both unexpected and touching. Backed by little more than a distant guitar strum and a humming atmosphere, the song is touching and haunting, even though Cave never really reveals what it is he knows. However, the album’s most surprising moment comes with “Palaces of Montezuma.” A litany and a love letter, the narrator of “Palaces” lists all the gifts he is going to give to his lover. But rather than chocolate boxes and roses, this lover receives “a custard-coloured super-dream/ Of Ali McGraw and Steve McQueen” and “the spinal cord of JFK/ Wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee.” “Palaces of Montezuma” may be Cave’s most accessible song yet, obliterating the bad memory of prior grasps like “Bring It On.”

More than anything else, Grinderman 2 expands just as much on the sounds of Lazarus as its similarly titled predecessor. Although reduced to a quartet, the four Bad Seeds still rock hard, producing songs that are not only as fleshed-out as those with the full ensemble, but beg to be played loud and live. There is a maxim about aging gracefully and Cave ain’t fucking buying it. Rock on.

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