Monday, September 20, 2010

Grinderman 2: A Real Cool Time?

Grinderman have a song called "No Pussy Blues." You probably know this if you've read a review of their debut, self-titled album, many of which were almost entirely given over to descriptions of the track. You may even have read about the song in the reviews of Grinderman 2, which does not feature "No Pussy Blues."

In an effort to dispel the myth that "No Pussy Blues" is the only Grinderman song, I'll take a look at the nine songs on the band's week-old sophomore effort. I also hope to debunk that other fiction, that the band, which includes Nick Cave, Martyn Casey, Warren Ellis, and Jim Sclavunos--four-sevenths of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds--hearken back to Cave's first group, the truly depraved Birthday Party. No ratings this time, since I don't feel like it.

1. Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man
Martyn Casey's strident bassline anchors Grinderman 2's fiery opener, with each note landing with the thud of a typewriter run through a stack of Marshalls (a typewriter can be heard at the start of...a certain song from the last album). The other Grindermen merely augment Casey. When the chorus hits, things explode outwards, in a mess of noise that would do Ron Asheton proud, while the verses are exercises in finely controlled tension. The lyrics--something about a just-awoken creep, his brother, and a "lupine child" who is literally aflame--are hardly Cave's finest moment, but his genius is as a performer, and this is a good performance.

2. Worm Tamer
Part of Grinderman's appeal is that such talented men have set their sights so low. "Worm Tamer" is a grimy song, with dirty lyrics that include the already-famous couplet "Well my baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster/Two great big humps and then I'm gone." All well and good, but Grinderman approach garage rock with nuance: the song rises and falls with its backing vocals, staggering along with the crunch of whatever strange instrument Ellis is playing, and generally sounding like the misplaced anger that consumes a man's head moments before he makes the sort of decision you cant un-make.

3. Heathen Child
Already written-up here. I've become more slightly fond of this song in the past six weeks. I still find the tension/release ratio, especially at the pivotal moment where tension becomes release, to be lacking, but the unsettling bounce gets me through. Love the part where Cave's rejoinder to our delusions is always "YOU ARE WRONG."

4. When My Baby Comes
Warren Ellis, who has come to be a dominant force in the Bad Seeds, plays throughout this album with an attention to texture rarely heard in rock music, on instruments like the bouzouki. The two halves of "When My Baby Comes" see him first painting a creeping disquiet, via knotted instrumentation and rude interjections, and then crafting a trance-like abandon (with a large assist from Casey's Mordor-ish bassline). It's no wonder he scores so many films.

The lyrics on "When My Baby Comes" are probably the most compelling on the album. Cave will recite two lines, sing the title, and then start again, picking up from a different point in space or time. Sung in the first-person, from an institution, they represent the fractured thoughts of a rape victim who dreads visiting hours and is linked to a mysterious, possibly fictional girl whose dealings on the narrator's carpet elicit great anxiety. The structure of the song, from the claustrophobic first half (which features nearly all the lyrics) to the molten ebbs and flows of the second part, mimic the the before and after of the narrator's tragic experience, but also an essentially disjointed mind.

5. What I Know
Consisting mostly of a simple, repeated thump and a quiet melange of stringed instruments, "What I Know" is a disarmingly beautiful track on an album that disavows Boatsman's Call-style gorgeousness. Cave, whose voice is far too loud in the mix, sounds intimate and resigned. The brief lines he spits out at the beginning work well, but he nearly ruins the track with his trademark tics near the end. Not the unequivocal success it might have been, but still mostly lovely.

6. Evil
There's a weird dynamic at work here, as Cave's foolish narrator declares his love for his baby in humiliating and desperate terms, while punkish backing vocals shout "evil!" and "evil rising!" Who's evil? The narrator? Nah, he's just a fool. Then his baby? Perhaps, but we know nothing about her. I suspect Cave is singing from some hellish place, where he feels compelled to pin all his miserable hopes on a woman with no distinguishing characteristics. Wherever the narrator sings, he sounds lost inside the howling noise. The vocals are probably too loud, again, but you don't really notice.

7. Kitchenette
The leering "Kichenette" supplies Grinderman 2's other moment of comedy: "What's this husband of yours ever given to you?/Oprah Winfrey on a plasma screen." Lyrically, this is the closest we get to a "No Pussy Blues" sequel, as Cave begs and pleads for the object of his desire to desert her husband and hideous children ("the ugliest kids I've ever seen") and allow him to make good on his single-entendres. The slowest song yet, all about the low-end, "Kitchenette" doesn't drag, but five minutes is a long time for a tune that exists to let Cave ham it up.

8. Palaces Of Montezuma
Perhaps the least Grinderman of all the tracks on Grinderman 2, "Palaces" wouldn't have sounded out of place among the careening rock and roll operettas of Abbatoir Blues and Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! The presence of a piano may have something to do with that, as do the background vocals and complete absence of scuzz. Which is fine, since I think Abbatoir and Lazarus are unbelievable albums. Don't ask me what Miles Davis the black unicorn is supposed to be, though.

9. Bellringer Blues
"Bellringer" would also fit on Abbatoir Blues, which already had a bell-themed tune. For one, there's a more conscious literary bent here, with the talk of soul survivors a possible echo of Exile On Main Street's closer. It's a dense song--like most of the album, it sounds like the work of a much larger band--a T-storm's worth of thunder, lightning and screaming wind. In other words, a fitting end to an excellent album. Grinderman haven't yet put out anything to rival the Bad Seeds' very best, but nor do they sound like anybody's side project.

1 comment:

  1. "Don't ask me what Mile Davis the black unicorn is supposed to be, though."

    Miles Davis playing his trumpet? A trumpet being a horn and Miles Davis being black...