Grinderman Goes After Middle Age With A Baseball Bat
On the way to a 2007 Grinderman show in Chicago, my best friend Jim and I talked about the new direction Nick Cave seemed to be taking, both musically and lyrically. Jim said he’d read an interview where Nick was talking about never having written songs on an electric guitar before, and how it flung the gates wide open and unleashed Grinderman. The first disc was really exciting in a dozen different ways, starting with how hot, bothered and newly energized Cave sounded on it.
I’ve been a Bad Seeds fan for years, and never missed a Chicago show since the early nineties, but in all honesty, those shows were starting to lag. Before Grinderman in 2007, the last time I’d seen Cave and The Bad Seeds was at a show at the Chicago Theater. The band was lush, the venue drop-dead beautiful, and it was all just a little too … pretty. Down on the floor of the theater as people were leaving, David Yow summed it up best: “Well, y’know… its Nick Cave… ZZZZZZZZZZZ…”
I asked Jim, (cuz he’s older than me) if that sex drive ever ebbs. “No,” he said. “You’ll find that yer still attracted to the same type of women you’ve always been attracted to, but because yer old, it’s unacceptable. Nothing in my mind has changed, but my physical appearance, my body itself is breaking down, so now I’m a dirty old man. It’s the worst. Like the first lines in “No Pussy Blues” — “My face is finished, my body’s done…”
The good nooz is, Grinderman blew up the Metro that night. It was hot, sweaty and deafening. Cave was clearly going after middle age with a baseball bat, refusing to allow time to wither him down to the “tattered coat upon a stick” William Butler Yeats wrote about in Sailing To Byzantium. The unrefined, tense undercurrent of blues, the literate jokes poked at the ridiculousness of the human (and more distinctly, male) condition, and the expert veteran delivery by Cave and Grinderman bandmates Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos (all Bad Seeds as well) left us feeling just a little bit better about getting old.
Now here it is, just a few years later, and we have Grinderman 2, the first set of loud, funny, dirty rock and roll songs from the reinvented Nick Cave since he and The Bad Seeds did (the 100 percent brilliant) Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! in 2008. Minutes into the opening track, Cave is channeling the legendary Howlin’ Wolf with a howl borrowed from direct from Wolf’s classic Smokestack Lightning which, for better or for worse, has been dusted off to serve as the backing track for a new set of Viagra commercials. (Heh heh. Dunno how The Wolf would feel about his music being used to hawk dick drugs, but it is kinda funny.)
Cave and the band are Australians, but Grinderman’s music is deeply informed by American electric blues. Neurotic, erotic weirdness abounds. “Heathen Child” is half rock song, half tribal chant, dominated by Cave’s spooky vocals and Warren Ellis wielding some unidentified musical instrument (perhaps) making noise from another dimension. The music video is even more unhinged than the track, with the Grindermen dressed like Roman Centurions shooting cheesy purple particle beams out of their eyeballs and blowing stuff up. “Kitchenette” is the straight-up obsession gospel blues, punctuated by a keyboard that sounds like its notes are being squeezed through a fire extinguisher. “Worm Tamer” (song title of the year, insert yer own mental image here) drives along on a jagged, continuous hand-me-down beat from Bo Diddley. “My baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster,” Cave sings, “…two great big humps and then I’m gone…”
Getting old and slowly coming undone isn’t so bad when there’s guys like Nick Cave around to share the pain and lend a little perspective. Grit yer teeth and go down swinging, friends. It’s the only way to die.