Packaging should represent the product; and when it doesn’t, what a drag. How often are your preconceived notions, based on the thirty-second film trailer, quashed ten minutes in when you figure out “oh, this isn’t a comedy about a quirky guy with a Real Doll”*, or “this isn’t even marginally scary”.
So praise (some deity) for Grinderman. If you have any doubts about the band’s shiver-inducing name, Nick Cave’s “I see where you sleep” gaze, Warren Ellis’s (the group’s deft multi-instrumentalist who refers to himself as “a fiddle player”) equally piercing stare emerging from an envied Viking beard, the cover art, a song called “Evil!”, the lyrics of track one, “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man”, will assuage you. “See a lupine child / with her hair on fire / Little burning girl! / looking up at me! / we sucked her and shaved her dry.” The music mirrors the snarling mood: chugging bass and effective simple drums drive and compel your neck to swivel and hips to sway (and tops to lift and brassieres to launch at the stage); a syncopated swirl of distorted strings (electric four-string mandolin, guitar, violin, etc.) dive-bomb, wah-wah and grab you by the shoulder as Cave’s literal howls deliver a punch to a bloody throat.
Grinderman is Cave, Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey and percussionist Jim Sclavunos (all also part of the current roster of The Bad Seeds) dealings, musically and lyrically, with basic desires and the amplified means people use to negotiate their acquisition. In other words, the album is vulgar, a display by people whom after a lifetime of learning the rules now break them with acute flagrancy. Throughout, the quartet siphons from the olde time Southern desperation played on a shoddy porch – though Grinderman tore up the genre on day one and sewed it back up with its own anti-commandments. For example: “With every ‘baby I need you’, mention, Gilgamesh or Akbar’s Tomb”, “Twelve-bar structures are now seven or seventeen”, “Don’t allow Warren’s violin to ever sound like a violin”, “If you’re out of key, own it by adding a lot of pepper and a three-minute solo”. In other words, this is the blues injected with poems and wrapped in a sonic kaleidoscope.
He would rather be compared to someone a little more “Classic”, but Cave’s aesthetic echoes Stephen King’s word on the subject of the how, why and who in his novels (from On Writing): “The point is to let each character speak freely…It means that they say shit more often than sugar when they bang their thumbs, but I’ve made my peace with that.” As he has since the beginning of his career, Cave continues to be the man whose smoldering charisma and intimate, detailed stories compel you to listen even when he verbalizes the thoughts we hide in the back of our heads. “What’s this husband of yours ever given to you?” he asks on “Kitchenette”. “Oprah Winfrey on a plasma screen / and a brood of jug-eared buck-toothed imbeciles / the ugliest fuckin’ kids I’ve ever seen.” On “Worm Tamer”, he disparagingly jokes, “Well, my baby calls me the Lock Ness Monster / two great big humps and then I’m gone.”
While many of Cave and Co.’s albums celebrate redemption and salvation after an emotional battering, Grinderman 2 is about release, musically and otherwise – what else would you expect from a photo of a rabid wolf about to piss on then or tear a hole in someone in an opulent house?!
*A real tearjerker, but what a great film.