Released: April 10, 2007
Some bands use rhythm. Some bands use melody. Grinderman uses insanity. Much of Nick Cave’s latest project has to be some of the darkest, most desolate music since Suicide’s debut 30 years ago. Unlike Suicide though, Grinderman has a more organic approach with traditional intruments and a definite feel of improvisation. While it might feel more alive, it certainly doesn’t make living sound very good. The music starts off plodding and dirgeful with stark instrumentation from three of the Bad Seeds. This isn’t just a stripped down version of the Bad Seeds though. This time, they write as a group and it’s decidedly uglier and emptier than even their previous explorations of life’s dark side over the first half.
The album kicks off with “Get It On,” an exercise in flat dissonance with Cave going off like some strange marriage of beat poet and televangelist. “No Pussy Blues” seems like it will be a bit more restrained though no more structured until the straight noise of the break after the first verse. These aren’t the “no pussy blues” of your typical rock star who didn’t get any from the groupies. It’s the “no pussy blues” of a sociopath who’s put all his sexual eggs in one basket and is seething after all his advances are rebuffed. And the last thing he’s looking for is love. Don’t expect anything lighter with “Electric Alice.” Musically, it’s a little bit more interesting, but that only serves to add new layers of creepiness. “Grinderman” hints at the Doors’ “The End,” but drags on considerably despite being far shorter. The album finally gets going a little on “Depth Charge Ethel.” It’s not a great song, but the mere presence of some form in the song make it stick out like a sore thumb. For the first time Grinderman gets away from the cold influence of Suicide coupled with some manic form of the blues and instead adopts the swagger of the New York Dolls while retaining a fair degree of the album’s general insanity. “Go Tell the Women” gets back to the minimalist approach with very little structure and much repetition. After six hookless tracks, “(I Don’t Need You) to Set Me Free” finally presents some semblance of a song that could stand on its own outside of the concept of the album. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest it would get radio play, but it is a reasonably listenable tune with some nice, loose guitar work. “Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars)” isn’t quite as strong as its predecessor, but works as a pretty good garage song with a pretty cool organ part and some wild guitar behind it. Cave does some real singing on “Man in the Moon,” a short ballad that continues in the warmer vein of the second half of the album. “When My Love Comes Down” reins in the rock a bit, but doesn’t return to the sparseness of the first half. It still has a bigger sound and more ability to stand on its own merit. “Love Bomb” finishes the album out with a lot more energy than it starts with, but great psyche guitar, a driving rhythm and Cave’s delivery make certain that the album’s overall insanity isn’t diminished.
Although it warms up over the second half, Grinderman remains a very dark affair. The first half is a particularly tough listen that really only succeeds in concept. Increased structure and energy make the second half much more listenable, but no more pleasant. Grinderman is certainly a success as pure art, but its inaccessiblity makes it struggle as a rock album. I would suggest that Nick Cave fans check it out to see just how much a Nick Cave fan they really are.