Grinderman – a side project featuring Nick Cave and members of the Bad Seeds – conjured up such an alluring debut in 2007 that it raised the bar pretty damn high. The fact that that this eponymous outing was followed by an utterly outstanding Bad Seeds album, ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’, and a critically acclaimed novel by Cave, ‘The Death of Bunny Munro’, suggested an artist at an unusual – arguably unprecedented – peak of creativity. The bar was raised higher – and so were the expectations.
‘Grinderman 2’ is meant, according to Cave, to be the album where the offshoot gets serious. The desire to explore a more primitive style – akin to Cave’s early recordings with The Birthday Party and spurred on by his supposedly rudimentary guitar playing – has yielded a rough, pseudo-bluesy sound but the touches of wit that illuminated the debut are missing: there is nothing here with the lusty black humour of that record’s ‘No Pussy Blues’ or ‘Get it On’.
The debut album found Cave musing on middle-age, hair loss and an excess of libido with amusing references to listening to Gardeners’ Question Time – ‘I can’t even grow a dandelion!’ – and Woman’s Hour, pondering a youth now distant and lost to rock and roll. But funny with it.
‘Grinderman 2’ feels like a more sober – indeed, quite serious – affair, as Cave addresses his baby’s godlessness on first single ‘Heathen Child’: ‘She don’t care about Buddha/Don’t care about Krishna/Don’t care about Allah/Don’t care about anything’. But the nihilism is not tempered by mordant humour and the song passes by in what is a disappointingly one-paced opening salvo of tracks. As a whole the album seems over-reliant on Cave’s vocal expressiveness and Old Testament-inspired riffs at the expense of the musical invention and tongue-in-cheek deftness of its predecessor.
Having said that, Nick Cave and several of the Bad Seeds not firing on all cylinders is approximately 88.6% more effective than most of your Aussie dark black magic garage bands. ‘Grinderman 2’ – and that sounds like a Hollywood sequel – is worth checking out, in the hope that previous peaks of artistry could one day be ascended. BH