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Nick Cave mid-life
Grinderman - Self-Titled
Review by Tony BonyataDespite the fact that Nick Cave has slowly been mellowing over the years ever since the release of his brilliant, yet decidedly more mature and serene 1997 effort The Boatman's Call, he's still managed to occasionally conjure up the fire-and-brimstone of his early days when he was lead agitator in the post-punk band The Birthday Party. "Dead Man In My Bed," from Cave and The Bad Seeds' 2003 Nocturama was an explosive, ramshackled rocker, while there were also moments on 2004's Abattoir Blues that also exorcized similar demons from Cave's more rebellious past. But for the most part, the Australian musician's work on record has been slowly mellowing like a fine wine over the last decade (although fermenting like sour mash might be a better term, since even many of the gentler and sparse compositions harbor dark lyrical undertones along with often twisted, deranged musical arrangements lurking in the negative spaces from his longtime accomplices The Bad Seeds).
Gathering three members from The Bad Seeds - Warren Ellis, Martyn P. Casey and Jim Sclavunos - for a new project known as Grinderman, Cave has concocted a bastard offspring with this noisy new quartet. On their self-titled release, Cave reclaims some of his youth with impassioned, belligerent and often foul slabs of raw, gritty garage rock. One thing that makes this effort so different from when The Bad Seeds would rattle the rafters, however, is that Cave tackles all the electric guitar duties for the first time. And not unlike The Sex Pistols or The Stooges before him - two acts who featured members that could barely play their instruments when they first formed - Cave's own slop-jar blues attack on guitar lends both an honesty and urgency to the music, forcing the rest of the band to readjust their own styles to something more base and primitive.
And it's this primordial stomp that rampages throughout that makes the entire album so arresting. Cave's buzzsaw guitar cleanly cuts through the opening track "Get It On," while the two pummeling numbers, "Depth Charge Ethel" and "No Pussy Blues," channel the same jarring psychotic rock from The Stooges' 1970 masterpiece Fun House. "The scuzzy organ line that stains the impeding rhythm section and call-to-arms guitar howl on "Honey Bee (Let's Fly To Mars)" as well as the album's manic closer, "Love Bomb" both stitch together a Frankenstein of mid-'60s America Nuggets-era garage rock with mid-'70s punk - only without the pimples and safety pins. Even when the arrangements get stripped back to a bare minimum, as on the album's title track, Cave's black snake moan of a croon along with his ghostly electric guitar and Ellis' foreboding viola turns this number into a nightmarish dirge that's hard to shake.
Call it a midlife crisis. Call it a return to Cave's own volatile roots. But don't call it mellow or mature, 'cause these mothers rock... hard.
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