Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nick Cave refines his flow with Grinderman 2

Following the release of the first Grinderman album, the Birthday Party references came quickly and steadily from music critics looking for a place to slot the latest Nick Cave side project which didn't seem to be a natural progression from what he'd been doing with the Bad Seeds. But rather than a regression for Cave as if part of an ill-advised bid to reconnect with his glory days as some have suggested, Grinderman is a bold step forward. He's not aiming to relive his youth, just merely trying to shake out the cobwebs.
Like many artists of Cave's advanced age – he turns 53 on September 22 – he has come to realize that those unequivocally great songs aren't filling up the pages of his notebooks as effortlessly as they once did. Plus, he no longer has longtime collaborator Mick Harvey as a sounding board who announced the end of their 25 year-long creative partnership for "personal and professional" reasons in January 2009.
Rather than settle for recording mediocre material or searching out some worthwhile covers as many of his singer/songwriter contemporaries have done after hitting the wall, Cave commendably decided to try shaking up his tried and true writing process instead. That means no more sitting alone in his office waiting for inspiration to move him over to the piano to plunk out a new idea. With the Grinderman project, Cave is now in a room face-to-face with his musical cohorts Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunous verbally playing off whatever riffs and rhythms they come up with not unlike the way some rappers use a beat to spark their flow. Consequently, rather than the grandly plotted narratives populated with sharply drawn characters commonly associated with Cave's pre-war ballads and blues-inspired work with the Bad Seeds, his Grinderman lyrics are much more impressionistic and abstract as if he's working to reconcile the disparate influences of Howlin' Wolf's Smokestack Lightnin' and Scarface's The Diary while maintaining that delightfully dark sense of humour. 
For Grinderman 2 (Mute/Anti-), Cave and crew now have a working methodology solidly in place and better defined roles which shows up in the refinement of the compositions that come off less like extended jams tossed off as part of a one-off studio project and more like actual songs played by a band – a brutally efficient one at that. Of course not every tune on the nine-song Grinderman 2 album is a memorable classic but they've certainly tightened up the wankery while lowering the overall suck-quotient. Perhaps even more important, it rocks and, at times, it's also uproariously funny.
The album's first single Heathen Child is their best song yet with the atypically tender B-side Star Charmer not far behind. Although it's still to early to tell whether Heathen Child and the other arena-ready whumpers they've included on Grinderman 2 (apparently only a fraction of the songs recorded made it onto the album) will connect with an audience beyond the Bad Seeds' loyal following. If it doesn't, it won't be from lack of trying.
Check out the startlingly demented Heathen Child video directed by John Hillicoat (The Road) which manages to one-up Peter Serafinowicz's similarly laser-enhanced clip for Hot Chip's I Feel Better for sheer bizarreness. We can only hope that Grinderman will be using those nutty Roman Centurion get-ups as stagewear for their upcoming tour which brings them to Toronto for a show at the Phoenix on November 11.

Worm Tamer by Grinderman on Later with Jools Holland


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