Thursday, August 30, 2007

I Thought I'd Try Another Tack I Drank a Litre of Cognac

Grinderman - Grinderman

It's a standard part of the rock and roll story that, should an artist survive the drug overdoses, bus crashes and inadequately expectorated vomit of their first fraught decade of stardom, they will inevitably mellow with age. Nick Cave is a perfect example of the phenomenon. The band that first brought him stardom, The Birthday Party, made most other punk bands look tame with their chaotic, gothic darkness and nihilism but when Cave moved on with his new band, The Bad Seeds, he gradually grew less and less angry and they are now producing albums such as the hushed and gentle The Boatman's Call and their latest work, the articulate, well mannered double CD set Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus.

The year however Cave has decided for whatever reason to reverse the trend and, taking with him a subset of the members of The Bad Seeds, has formed a new band, Grinderman, with the intent of delivering a bit of the raucousness of his early music.

This is clearly still music made by the same guy who wrote No More Shall We Part and The Boatman's Call, but the persona conjured by the lyrics is a much less pleasant figure, one no longer afflicted with the inflamed rage of youth but suffering from the bitter spitefulness and cynicism of someone grown old ungracefully. Delivered by a younger voice a song called 'No Pussy Blues' might be a straightforward statement that one wishes to get laid but has not yet succeeded in doing so, as in rock and roll's perennial gross totem of mediocrity, the Rolling Stone's 'Satisfaction'. Grinderman's version however is rife with ironic wit and seems to be more about the confinement of being in a long term monogamous relationship than the typical rock cliché.

Musically this is a step away from The Bad Seeds, the arrangements are straightup raw punk, with just a trickle of jazz heard in the drums and piano (and by this I mean the rollicking dirty Jelly Roll Morton kind of jazz, not the sophisticated trendy Duke Ellington kind of jazz). The songs are dominated by a mean guitar with buzzsaw distortion reeking of frustration, and of course Cave's unmistakable voice. While he's obviously reaching for the bitter anger that defines the album's concept I get the impression that it's not genuinely heartfelt, and the ironic humour in the lyrics reinforces the feeling that this gritty, masculine fuck you album is all really a bit of a lark. It just goes to show that even if a band as skilled as these guys attempts to return to their roots, they're not going to end up exactly back where they're trying to get to, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

About two thirds of the songs found here are loud rockers, and they're definitely a lot of fun but I generally preferred the mellower songs, most notably the title track and 'When My Love Comes Down', which trade in the punky growls of the rest of the album for spooky, haunting ambience. These of course also happen to be the songs that sound most like Bad Seeds songs. While I enjoyed this album I'm still more excited about the new Bad Seeds album due next year. Which is not to say that I'm not excited about Grinderman's concert here in October!

Here's 'No Pussy Blues':

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