In an interview with MOJO a few years back, Nick Cave talked about the raw sexuality of the first Grinderman album. “It’s uncomfortable from a man of 51. I’ve been called a ‘dirty old man’ many times and I enjoy that.” While carnality has played a part in Cave’s music since his tenure in The Birthday Party, there was an antsy, nose-thumbing gleefulness to songs like “Get It On,” “No Pussy Blues,” and “Love Bomb” that was inescapable. It was all there in the cover image of a monkey cupping its balls: the secret to Grinderman’s appeal was that, after nearly a decade of mannered, soul-searching records, it sounded like Cave was once again having the time of his life.
Grinderman made for a fun addition to Cave discography, a scuzzy, rock ’n’ roll animal frothing at the mouth with bent blues riffs, hoisted out of the quagmire of side-project indulgence on the strength of its singles. For all that, though, it felt more like a momentary excursion than a new entity in and of itself, and long-term I suspected that it might go down as something of a footnote to Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!. Grinderman 2 goes a long way towards solidifying this four-man Bad Seeds mash-up as a distinctive musical act, even as it brings them closer to their parent band’s wheelhouse. Everything that was there in Grinderman’s debut has been magnified to the nth degree: the subdued songs are more tuneful and emotionally evocative than before, but when they cut loose, it’s with a new yowling fury that would send “Honey Bee Let’s Fly to Mars” scurrying for a corner to hide in.
“Worm Tamer” is as pristine a slice of screaming, sweating id as you could ask for. Jim Sclavunos’s stuttering drum beat creates a sense of penned-up entropy, while the rest of the band tramples back-and-forth over it with fuzzed-out licks of guitar noise and animal panting. Lead single “Heathen Child” draws a fine balance between the verses backed by Martyn Casey’s come-hither bass and the reach-out-and-fuck-someone, guitar-wail-floating-above-a-bed-of-rusty-nails chorus. On the other side of the spectrum, we have “The Palaces of Montezuma,” a surprisingly tender, delightfully warped profession of love that would have felt at home on either of the Bad Seed’s last two albums. It’s my favorite of the more dialed-back songs.
And just as the pleasure of “No Pussy Blues” emanated from the frankness with which Cave punctured holes into the porno sex rock-star fantasy images that surround us, Grinderman 2 doesn’t shy away from sexual anxiety. “When My Baby Comes” is a gender-bending meditation on the insufficiency of sexual attraction to cement a relationship, beginning in murky “Night of the Lotus Eaters” territory and ending in droning, stoner-rock heaven. Better still is “Evil,” a whirlwind of erotic obsession that finds Cave breathlessly stumbling over himself, ”Who needs the stars? You are my stars/ Who needs the moon? You are my moon.”
Grinderman 2 is a brilliant sophomore set, adding depth and character to this side-project without dulling its fangs or detracting any of the decadence and debauchery that made their debut so much fun. This is a squealing garage-rock bombshell that finds good company amid Them Crooked Vultures and P.J. Harvey and John Parish’s A Woman a Man Walked By. The boys in Grinderman may be growing up as they grow old, but so far they show no signs of ever growing dull.