"Grinderman 2." Grinderman. Back at the beginning of what has proved to be a prolific and varied career, Aussie post-punk crooner Nick Cave fronted one of the most combative and abrasive acts in underground rock, the much-feared, often-imitated but never-duplicated death-core bludgeoners, The Birthday Party.
At the height of their prowess, these musicians made The Stooges sound like the Bay City Rollers -- and made The Sex Pistols seem safe enough to hire for bar mitzvahs and anniversary parties. After a run spanning 1977 to 1984, Cave split the band and began his run of lineups and records with his band of Bad Seeds.
Cave's Bad Seeds output has retained much of the edge from his punk days, but the music is largely more sophisticated, nuanced and at times rivaling Leonard Cohen in terms of pure emotional complexity and beauty. Gone are the bug-eyed, gonzo moments from the younger days of blood and adrenaline.
Perhaps, now settling into the more domesticated life of a middle-aged father, Cave misses the old smash-mouth days. That can be the only explanation for Grinderman. Grabbing fellow Seed/multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, along with his usual rhythm section, Cave has returned to his more guttural roots with this extension of his oeuvre.
Now on album No. 2, Cave and company continue to howl in a slaughterhouse of fuzzed-out garagerock, snake-charmer cabaret and Grand Guignol imagery.
More focused and limber than on its slightly more raucous debut, Grinderman shows the 50-plus Cave is still capable of outrocking kids half his age. From the white-knuckled gutter-rock stomp of "Mickey Mouse and the Good-Bye Man," to the punctuated squall of "Evil," to the slow-boil sprawl of "Bellringer Blues," "Grinderman 2" delivers the goods.
Although Cave's more subdued moments have provided some of his finest work, it's good to know he can still maneuver these volatile waters like Ahab on a bender.