TER­RELL’S TUNE-UP Putting lis­ten­ers through the grinder

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos - Steve Ter­rell

The first al­bum by Grin­der­man is an in­tense burst of bile, anx­i­ety, rage, ob­scen­ity, and loud, sloppy rock ’ n’ roll.

It’s my fa­vorite Nick Cave al­bum since 1995’s Murder Bal­lads. The new Grin­der­man al­bum, Grin­der­man 2, while slightly less ragged than the orig­i­nal, is al­most as good. And I wouldn’t ar­gue all that hard with those who say it’s even bet­ter.

Like many, I as­sumed that this band — named for a Mem­phis Slim song and ba­si­cally just a stripped-down ver­sion of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — was a one-off side project for Cave. When I heard a new Grin­der­man al­bum was in the works, I was afraid it would be a pale shadow of the first. Such fears were base­less.

Re­view­ing the first al­bum in 2007, I wrote, “Rock ’ n’ roll sup­pos­edly is a young man’s game — tra­di­tion­ally, some of the best of it is cre­ated by horny, sex­u­ally frus­trated young guys. But with Grin­der­man ... Cave proves that horny, sex­u­ally frus­trated mid­dle-aged men can rock, too.” And three years older, they still can.

Go­ing on the premise that some­times you can judge a book, or an al­bum, by its cover, the art­work on both al­bums helps ex­plain the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two ef­forts. On the first al­bum, the art­work shows a mon­key clutch­ing its pri­vate parts. The col­ors are dis­torted — the an­i­mal is green, yel­low, and orange. It’s like an im­age buried in­side some advertisement de­signed to sub­lim­i­nally get you scared and an­gry.

The cover of Grin­der­man 2 is dis­turb­ing in a dif­fer­ent way. It’s a shot of a real wolf — his fangs clearly vis­i­ble — in­side what looks like

When I heard a new Grin­der­man al­bum was in the works, I was afraid it would be a pale shadow

of the first. Such fears were base­less.

an up­scale home — white mar­ble floors, of­fwhite walls, white roses in a vase, and Ro­man sculp­tures. The wolf is in the house — maybe your house. You don’t know how it got there, but it’s there.

In­deed, the wolf stalks Cave’s lyrics on sev­eral songs here. In the open­ing song, “Mickey Mouse and the Good­bye Man,” Cave sings of him­self and his un­named brother: “I was Mickey Mouse. And he was the Big Bad Wolf!” Later, in “Hea­then Child,” Cave sings of a girl: “Sit­ting in the bath­tub/Wait­ing for the Wolf­man to come!” And maybe it’s my imag­i­na­tion, but in the in­stru­men­tal break near the end of the next tune, “When My Baby Comes,” I al­most think I hear a wolf howl. It’s the same with the start of the fol­low­ing song, “What I Know.”

The first three songs of Grin­der­man 2 present a clas­sic ex­am­ple of sav­ing your best for first. On “Mickey Mouse and the Good­bye Man,” Cave howls like Ch­ester Bur­nett (aka Howlin’ Wolf) on “Smoke­stack Light­ning.” You can hear echoes of other songs here, too: Patti Smith’s “Glo­ria” and The Doors’ “When the Mu­sic’s Over,” and there’s an in­ten­tional nod to blues bel­ter Lu­cille Bo­gan’s no­to­ri­ous “Shave ’ Em Dry.”

“Mickey Mouse” starts out with a brief, slow gui­tar in­tro­duc­tion and then explodes into full­force de­mon rock. A bass throbs, drums crash, and a gui­tar spits dis­torted sounds as Cave sings, “I woke up this morn­ing/I thought what am I do­ing here.” His brother is rag­ing and howl­ing at him. There’s a “lupine girl” whose hair is on fire. And some­one is “rat­tling the locks.” In other words, a typ­i­cal week­end at Nick Cave’s house.

Worm Tamer” rocks even harder, with a mu­tated Bo-Did­dley-con­quers-the-Mar­tians beat. It’s full of fun in­nu­endo and dou­ble-en­ten­dre. “Well, my baby calls me the Loch Ness Mon­ster/ Two great humps and then I’m gone.”

Then “Hea­then Child” takes us right to the night­mare world of “Mickey Mouse.” A girl is “sit­ting in the bath­tub suck­ing her thumb,” though she’s fully armed as she waits for that Wolf Man. In one verse Cave sings mock­ingly: “You think your great big hus­band will pro­tect you. You are wrong!/You think your lit­tle wife will pro­tect you. You are wrong. You think your chil­dren will pro­tect you! You are wrong!/You think your govern­ment will pro­tect you. You are wrong!”

The al­bum slows down some­what on the next cou­ple of songs. But even though the mu­sic on “When My Baby Comes” is more se­date than be­fore (at least the first half, be­fore Cave and the boys go into a Black An­gels-like psy­che­delic ex­cur­sion), the lyrics are still full of dread and vi­o­lence: “They had pis­tols, they had guns/They threw me on the ground as they en­tered into me (I was only 15!)” Cave sings, re­mind­ing old fans of his songs like “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry.”

“What I Know” is more mel­low — mu­si­cally, at least. The sur­real sonic back­drop sounds like a des­per­ate ra­dio broad­cast from a dis­tant di­men­sion. But the rage re­turns on the next song, “Evil.” Over an al­most metal­lic back­drop, Cave bel­lows, “O cling to me lit­tle baby in this bro­ken dream/And let me pro­tect you from this evil.”

“Kitch­enette” is the song that most re­minds me of the first Grin­der­man al­bum in sound and in spirit. The wolf re­turns, but this time it is a Tex Avery-style car­toon wolf in the house. It’s a swag­ger­ing, dam­aged blues num­ber with Cave in full Nick the Lech mode, com­ing on to a help­less house­wife. “What’s this hus­band of yours ever given to you?/Oprah Win­frey on a plasma screen,” he sings. “And a brood of jug-eared buck­tooth im­be­ciles/The ugli­est kids I’ve ever seen.”

Cau­tion, would-be ladies’ men: the surest way to bed a mar­ried woman prob­a­bly doesn’t in­volve in­sult­ing her chil­dren. But if she likes loud, un­fet­tered, sleazy scary rock ’n’ roll, you might just have a chance if you play her some Grin­der­man.

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