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.
01. Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man
02. Worm Tamer
03. Heathen Child
04. When My Baby Comes
05. What I know
08. Palaces of Montezuma
09. Bellringer Blues