The first time I listened to Grinderman 2, even though Nick Cave runs a close second or third in my literary rock star pantheon after Bob Dylan, I mainly hated it and could not imagine listening to it again. But because it’s Nick Cave, I did listen again, and again. The first listen I lay in the dark in a hotel bed in Epping, England, in the farthest reaches of London. My four-month-old son was sleeping in the Pack and Play nearby. My wife was off eating Italian food with her large family while I watched him. We were there for a wedding.
The second through nth listen was done piecemeal throughout the rest of the vacation. I listened while walking to the train station, on the train, back in the hotel room, etc. Certain songs in particular started to sound better. Things that sounded haphazard started clicking in my brain. But repetition has that effect.
My third real listen was on the plane back to New York, sandwiched between my wife holding our congested son and another family, the father of which was expanding gratuitously over his armrest territory, making me have to write this review with pen and pad held strategically mid-air so I could have access to my elbows (who knew elbows were so important to writing!). This time through, I loved it. I found it so wonderfully fresh and painfully derivative that I’m sure if it were a new band’s debut, it would be crushed by most critics. But because it’s Nick Cave, those of us who are partial to Nick Cave will keep listening.
“Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” starts as hackneyed as it gets with “I woke up this morning” and ends with a rip-off, I mean homage, to Patti Smith’s Horses (“walking like a travelator/Jumping in the elevator” repeated with the same rhythm and kind of intensity).
“Worm Tamer” was boring for me until I was uplifted by the Ennio Morricone backing vocals—only Bad and Ugly here, but I’m a sucker for stuff like this. There is mention of the Abominable Snowman, who returns later, like the punchline of one of those non-jokes you tell in two parts separated by cocktail conversation.
Grinderman, Heathen Child
“Heathen Child” might ultimately be my favorite track, for the same reason I like Lou Reed—he’s often awful but you can’t help wanting to repeat his phrasing when you’re drunk. It immediately invokes The Talking Heads Remain in Light (I kept waiting for “Take a look at these hands…”) but then broadens into Nick Cave’s John Lennon’s “God” (“I don’t believe in Buddha” vs. “She don’t care about Buddha”). The “don’t believe”/”don’t care about” litany returns later with a new twist “She don’t care about Buddha, she is the Buddha” and so on. Nick Cave conveys obsession better than anyone else since James Brown and in this song obsession is reflected back and forth into eternity by two cracked and blood-stained mirrors. And then the Abominable Snowman returns. Sort of like the gigantic father sitting next to me on the plane. SHARE YOUR FRIGGIN ARMEST ON A CROSS-ATLANTIC FLIGHT!
Grinderman, When My Baby Comes
“When My Baby Comes” is sonically similar to Dig Lazarus Dig’s “Lotus Eaters” before breaking down halfway through the track into a crazy slow heavy dirge, which I actually liked despite its pointlessness. The arrangements in this dirge and throughout the album uncannily change textures and instrumentation at the exact moments when I verge on being bored.
“Evil” is a funny little fruit. I first read its lyrics (to be found in the deluxe packaging, for which I am also a sucker) before I heard the track and figured I would immediately identify with the “baby crying like a demon in Daddy’s arms” bit. (I have a very sweet son, but when he gets on a crying jag, he is demonic.) I didn’t identify when I heard it, but I still was entertained. Also notable, the echo of “Heathen Child”—now about TV’s, moons and stars (“You are my TV… you are my stars”). Thus Grinderman 2 turns a reference to an outside song into its own motif.
“Kitchenette” is easy and heavy, White Stripes meets Nine Inch Nails. So what.
Grinderman, Palace of Montezuma
“Palace of Montezuma” was my favorite track on first listen because I knew exactly how to listen to it. After the brutal late night demolition derby/pub crawl of the proceeding album, it sounds like fresh air—the breath of, not the NPR program, though Terry Gross will probably play this if she interviews Nick Cave again. It sounds very much like the songs “Under this Moon” and “Babe, I Got You Bad” from Nick Cave’s rare songs album. I like this version of Nick Cave, but I’ve heard it before.
Speaking of songs, most of the tracks on Grinderman 2 aren’t really songs so much as they are chants, weird private rituals, acts of repeated walloping violence, of taste pitted against taste (like a peanut butter sardine sandwich).
“Bellringer Blues” closes the album and doesn’t get me going until the end when it sounds like the backing vocals keep repeating “I’m a soul survivor.” Sounds familiar. Oh, right, the closing track on Exhile on Main Street.
Grinderman (1) was an album of fairly concise jolts of often forgettable, sometimes thrilling dirty dreams. Grinderman 2 is full of nightmares, but nightmares worth repeating. Going back and listening to the first album, I actually prefer Grinderman 2. But I’ll still end up listening more often to Nick Cave and Bad Seeds’ Abattoir Blues, Dig Lazarus Dig and Let Love In. I’ll probably start my son off on Murder Ballads.
Jim Knable is a Brooklyn-based writer of plays, songs, and prose. His short story Walpurgisnacht appeared in Frontier Psychiatrist in July. His plays have been produced at MCC Theatre, Woolly Mammoth, Soho Rep, NYC’s Summer Play Festival and other regional theaters, and have been published by Broadway Play Publishing, Smith and Kraus and Playscripts, Inc. He released his solo album Miles in 2000, Redbeard (2006) and Golden Arrow (2009) with his band The Randy Bandits. He is now shopping his novel Sons of Dionysis