Grinderman, just as an idea, works. You needn’t have heard a note of this band to know that this project is smartly conceived. Anyone familiar with Nick Cave’s M.O should know that he’d thrive in a setting where his libido went unchecked. Their eponymous debut set the stage with its lead single, “No Pussy Blues,” a demented and hilarious chronicle of mid-life sexual misadventures replete with caterwauling whirlwinds of guitar. If Nick Cave was going to be walking around in his fifties desperately trying to get laid, he was at least going to be in on the joke.
Grinderman was well-received. But more importantly, it’s clearly a lot of fun for all of the members involved — a chance to tear into their instruments with youthful ferocity while occasionally acknowledging how absurd the whole project is. So it’s no surprise that Cave, Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos, and Martyn Casey are back for another round of lecherous dick-swinging and explosive instrumentation. Grinderman 2 basically does exactly what the first Grinderman album did, only the heavy parts are heavier, the creepy parts are creepier, and Cave’s skulking lothario has only grown to be more verbally and physically intimidating.
Whereas Grinderman needed “Get It On” to awkwardly drag the listener in, Grinderman 2 opens far more confidently with “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man.” The menacing monster of a bass line immediately lets the audience know that Grinderman are that big, bad wolf on the cover of the album, and it’s going to be hard to look away from the sort of carnage it intends to reek. It seems like an odd time in their career for Cave and his cohorts to start channeling the Stooges, but damn if they don’t just nail the slithering malice and discomfiting sexuality of that seminal band.
The second track, “Worm Tamer,” takes that same swaggering attitude and pitches it into an industrial grind, leaving Cave to wriggle uncomfortably under the spell of the titular female. Cave even goes the Lil’ Wayne route, throwing out brilliantly immature nicknames at a steady clip (“My baby calls me the Loch Ness monster/Two great big humps and then I’m gone”).
The first even partial break from this vicious tear of howling guitars and loveless sex arrives at the beginning of “When My Baby Comes.” The listener gets three minutes of rumbling drums, fretless bass, and an agitated but restrained Cave before a snarling blues riff transforms the song into a destructive ogre, all pounding drums, screeching guitars and a nightmarish choir chanting “Where’s she gonna run to?.” Follower “What I Know” is maybe the only consistently quiet moment on the album, but the ugly noises that inhabit every corner keep it from being a genuine reprieve. It certainly doesn’t help that the song “Evil” is lurking right around the corner which, despite its title, heavy clatter and constant shouts of “Evil! Rising!,” might qualify as the romantic song on the album.
“Kitchenette” successfully carries the album’s thematic torch, as Cave’s lyrics keep blurring the lines between sex and violence until it’s difficult to tell which lines are about which topic. But then something surprising happens. More specifically, “Palaces of Montezuma” happens. Just when you thought Grinderman 2 couldn’t get any more deranged, it doesn’t. “Palaces of Montezuma,” with its beat directly lifted from “Sympathy for the Devil” (probably not a coincidence), contains as gregarious of a chord progression and chorus that exists in Cave’s catalogue, and provides a late-album respite from the rampant machismo on near-constant display.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Grinderman is how the band establishes a mood of unhinged, fang-bearing ferocity that in no way detracts or distracts from their obvious literary prowess and masterful, meticulous musicianship. Cave once again proves to be one of the very few songwriters whose erudition enhances the raw, animalistic nature of his music rather than undermines it, and the band he’s assembled has an intuitive grasp on how to best bring those qualities across. It will be difficult for Grinderman to go up from here, but it sure as hell will be fun to see them try.