Review Summary: Grinderman gone soft? Well, not exactly...
Let's get this out of the way: Grinderman 2
is very good. It is perhaps even better than that, but for some its overall quality will ultimately be its downfall. Why? Because Grinderman
, the 2007 debut album from the band of the same name, was good precisely because it had absolutely no desire to be.
In 2006, Nick Cave - leader of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - dragged three of his bands six members away (specifically Warren Ellis, Martyn P. Casey and Jim Sclavunos) to tap into something more sonically primal. The resulting album, under new moniker Grinderman, was a different beast from the precise, diverse, dark-pop stylings of The Bad Seeds. Instead, it showed four musicians revelling in not playing their instruments properly, something most evident on its lead single 'No Pussy Blues'
, with its ear-splitting, completely scattershot blasts of wah-wah guitar hammering through the song like a blunt knife. Of course, this was a facade; after their many years of song craft, Nick Cave & Co can't help but write a tune, no matter how seemingly unlistenable, and Grinderman
's catchier pleasures became more and more apparent with each further listen.
Three years and another Bad Seeds album later, Grinderman return to pick up where they left off with Grinderman 2
, and the first thing to take note of is that its not quite the primal beast the first album was. First cut 'Mickey Mouse and The Goodbye Man'
does its best to convince otherwise, with its tense bursts of abrasive choruses shot through with brooding, haunting verses set to Cave recounting a murder in a hotel room. With such a thick application of fuzzy guitars and lyrics like 'We took shelter under her body/And we sucked her dry'
, Grinderman 2
hardly marks the band going pop. However, beyond the initial abrasion of the first few tracks it becomes clear that this second outing wears Cave's natural instincts for epic melody on its sleeves far more brazenly than before. The fourth track, 'When My Baby Comes'
, is a nigh on 7 minute mirror image of itself - the first half nervously jolting through an oddly beautiful de-tuned violin melody, whilst the second raptures on building layers of majestic orchestration before rumbling into an expansive, stoner-rock swagger that is as dark as it is anthemic. As the song climaxes a backing vocal melody swells, repeating hypnotically until the song fizzles out after a gnarled reprise. 'Love Bomb'
The reason I describe this track so exhaustively is not only because it's fantastic, but because it best encapsulates where this album lies in relation to the band's first. Grinderman 2
is the same Grinderman that was snarling and thrusting three years ago, but with added scope and diversity. The disturbingly timid ‘What I Know’
alone is enough evidence of this; comprising solely of Cave’s contemplative crooning over muted acoustic guitar and kick drum. Or how about the surprisingly delightful 'Palaces of Montezuma'
, all bouncing along on optimistic bass lines and tambourines to sordid promises of giving the object of his desires 'the spinal cord of JFK wrapped in Marilyn Monroe's negligee'
. Such morbidly humourous lyrics ensure that the song still sees Grinderman tapping into the kinds of themes they do best, but musically it's as close to a Bad Seeds song as they will probably ever dare to go.
This is not to suggest, of course, that it isn't all utterly brilliant, but therein lies the crux of Grinderman 2
: If you are willing to accept the changes, you will find a leaner, tighter band with an added ear for harmony and broad, epic song-writing. They are still unmistakably noisy, ensuring that the raucous 'Evil'
and the wailing guitar sirens of 'Heathen Child'
both have the ability to deafen in the most pleasurable way possible. But as the shimmering synths and psychedelic, Hendrix-tinged guitars of 'Bellringer Blues'
send out the album on an almighty high, it's clear that Grinderman are aiming to go somewhere greater this time around, and they get there on more than one occasion. That might be a place many fans of the first album's primal noise wont care to visit, but for me at least, this must be the album of the year.