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Grinderman - Grinderman

  by Jeff Thiessen

published: 24 / 6 / 2009

Grinderman - Grinderman
Label: Select Label
Format: N/A


In our 'Re:View' series,in which our writers look back on albums from the past, Jeff Thiessen re-examines the 2007 debut album of Nick Cave's raw-in-sound Grinderman project and finds that, much to his surprise, two years on it stands upo to prolonged listening

As I listen to Nick Cave’s 'Grinderman' album these days, I am strongly reminded of the life of Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist who was appointed director of the Manhattan Project. Here was a guy, who had little-to-no political connections, a theorist and not an engineer, was only thirty-eight, had a radical left-wing past, and oh yeah, tried to poison his tutor in graduate school...heading up an the first official government-funded nuclear arms development. Come to think of it, General Leslie Groves, the man who hired Oppenheimer, was probably more concerned with his past ties with the radical left then his attempt at first-degree homicide (after all, murder is sort of Republican), but the point is, logically, there isn’t a whole lot of reasoning to explain why Oppenheimer would get this opportunity. His chequered past, along with his relatively young age and limited connections don’t exactly make him a prime candidate for such a position, which obviously was at the highest level of National Security. How he acquired this job wasn’t dumb luck, or blackmailing government officials with illicit, revealing photos, or anything of the sort really. Basically, he just applied his intelligence in a very practical way and won over a high-ranking military officer by finding a way to relate his ideas to the general in an assertive, yet impassioned manner that seemed to make everything he said sound so simple, yet tremendously effective. There is no reason anybody even a shred under-qualified for this job should have been considered, much less hired on, but this is a prime example of someone with an extremely high level of intelligence, extracting just a morsel out of it to achieve something normally way beyond their reach. It’s not representing stupidity, because the recognition of the situation and subsequent execution requires much smarts, but it is representative of a more primal, survival-oriented aspect of his aptitude that was simply utilitarian, and Oppenheimer thrived because of this willingness to be intellectually flexible. Essentially, it’s the same thing with Nick Cave’s 2007 project, Grinderman. Nick Cave is a very smart guy, but with this album, he allowed his elevated level of astuteness to become sort of a guide, something to navigate and nudge the all his rudimentary and primordial urges in just the right places. So basically, we get an album that sounds loose, and fun, and raucous, something that not only allows, but encourages us to shake all our inhibitions and hang-ups, at least over the course of the eleven-song opus. Essentially, this is stupidity coming from a much higher place, and while the second part is an afterthought, it’s an undeniable aspect of the end-product, and even in its blatant simplicity, there somehow seems to be something new and exciting with Grinderman with each subsequent listen. What I’m trying to say is, I am so glad that after two years, Grinderman is still a awesome rock n’ roll album. I remember hearing it the first time when it came out , and thinking, “This is great but man, it’s running on fumes. There’s no way this terrific cluster-fuck of a record can sustain itself for any prolonged period of time.” Grinderman is a rare album in the sense it’s explosiveness all but ensures it’s also a ticking time-bomb of eventual implosion. Sooner or later it’s going to violently collapse into itself, and from my initial assessment, it would be much more sooner than later. To be clear, I’m not trying to state it’s the sort of music one gets tired of easily, no, far from it, but most of us lack the sheer iron will to be able to consistently deal with the insane rawness and bedlam that accompany each and every visit to the world of Grinderman. I saw it as something that defeats all who try and view it as an investment. I mean there isn’t a moment on the album that isn’t flying totally off the rails and dragging the listener along with them, and I guess I assumed it was just a matter of time before our asses were toe-tagged and we had to place the record in victory gardens, alongside other such conquerors as he Mekons, Icarus Line, and most early stuff by the Swans. We’re not victims, but these sorts of albums did beat us down, and most of us don’t want to reopen the stitches. But hey, I got news for ya Nick, I’m still standing! Two years later I’m battered, and bruised, but I still finding myself throwing on 'Grinderman' very frequently, and I’ve came to realize a few things: i) Grinderman might be the best punk-rock album since 'Raw Power'. ii) If you can consistently listen to this music for more then six months, and start to not see it as a battering-ram, you could probably get through anything. iii) By this point two years later, it becomes sort of like becoming great friends with a bully who used to lay you out. Not only do you learn a lot of interesting, unique things about the guy, but it is great having his manic lunacy on your side, and his untamed aggression which was initially something you feared on a daily basis, becomes your loyal ally. Analogies aside, it’s around this point where Grinderman ceases to be a gnarly mosh pit in your basement, and morphs into background music for spirited, philosophical discussions ranging from blue balls, subconsciously-toxic relationships, and even drunken existentialism (the other day while listening to 'Grinderman 'and three sheets to the wind, my friend slovenly proposed the question, “If somebody’s phone rings, but there is nobody there to answer it from now to the end of time, does that mean the person calling also doesn’t exist?” Not a word of a lie, this is the extent of profound stupidity Grinderman is completely capable of drawing out of even the most clever person). There’s a lot to feel when listening to this album, but very little to consider, and with titles like 'No Pussy Blues' and 'Get It On', that shouldn’t be a huge surprise. This aesthetic was expanded on considerably with The Bad Seeds next release 'Dig! Lazarus! Dig!', but for the time being, we’re rolling around in mud with smiles on our face and an alert absence in our mind. Speaking of those two, they’re easily the best cuts on the record, but you know, for as much praise as 'No Pussy Blues' received, I have to give the ever-so-slight edge to the opener of the record, 'Get It On'. It lacks the story-telling crassness of 'No Pussy Blues', but for a song that keeps threatening to build on itself, but ends up with no real payoff, it sure encompasses the soul of Grinderman in three short minutes. And yes, there is a soul here, and as chaotic and frenzied as everything is, 'Get It On' nails it on the very first track of the record. This is anarchy processed through the mind of someone who is well aware that it’s more then just a t-shirt slogan, and it’s this innate struggle between a rejection of conventionality and a reluctant commitment to extinction that bleeds out of the orifices of every single note on 'Grinderman'. The good news is, it’s a struggle that really can’t be won one way or the other, so that forces us to do the only thing we really know how to do; rock our asses off, and in style. That’s why I initially found Grinderman so bloody exhausting. There certainly is not a whole lot of room to manoeuvre. If you listen closely though, there are enough crevices and crawlspaces here to make it out alive every time, and not as just some feat of courage either. Yeah it’s tough to get through the first four gnarling tracks (partly because there is absolutely nothing to grab onto, and partly because 'Electric Alice' is the worst track on the record, although it doesn’t help it followed 'No Pussy Blues'), but if you push on through the first third of 'Grinderman', there is some solace to be had, albeit in very small doses and through subjective definition. The freaked-out fuzz of 'Depth Charge Ethel' provides enough moments of hazy sorta-joy to stumble ahead to the stripped down, bluesy 'Go Tell the Woman', and by this point you’re basically home-free. 'Yeah I Don’t Need You (To Set Me Free)' and the following track 'Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars)' starts to give the impression Grinderman might actually be allowing some supplement to melodic-restraint to seep in, as both of these actually have somewhat FM-friendly hooks, but that’s probably what makes the last three tracks to stomach-turning. As quickly as harmony entered, it leaves even swifter, leaving us to be unable to process anything we just heard, and scrambling to catch up to this seemingly unprecedented turn of events. 'Love Bomb' ends off the record, and provides a perfect bookend to the opener 'Get It On'. What I noticed is the middle of the record provides more then enough moments to take refuge from the barroom brawls, boozed-up apocalyptic visions, and random gun-shots fired into the air, but it’s tough to acknowledge them when they’re sandwiched in between so much demolition, and even tougher to actively recall them. I have got to admit though, my mind was in this piece, and not really my heart, because I could really give a shit if you have figured out how to not only love Grinderman, but love it over a prolonged period of time. I don’t mind imparting some of my knowledge because, yes, I have learned a couple a things these last couple years listening to this thing, and one of them was while it cannot be tamed, it can be managed. In a way it reminds me of the part in 'Crime and Punishment' where Raskolnikov kills the old woman and her sister. It’s ugly and messy, but, as the book goes on, it starts to make more and more sense, and the moral disarray that accompanied the murder starts to become permanently stained on his inner being, a twisted sort of maturation I guess. Like I said, I didn’t think I’d be listening to 'Grinderman' years after its release, but like all the most rewarding things in life, you find a way to minimize the damage and embrace the goddamn thing with golden arms. Only then will you be able to truly get it on, and with no shelf-life to boot.

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Grinderman - Grinderman

Grinderman - Grinderman

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Interview (2007)
Grinderman - Interview
Anthony Dhanendran attends a press conference with Grinderman, the new band of Nick Cave and Dirty Three and Bads Seeds violinist Warren Ellis, at which they talk about their self-titled debut album and their first ever live performance at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival

live reviews

Forum, London, 20/6/2007
Grinderman - Forum, London, 20/6/2007
In an impressive double bill, Jon Rogers at the London Forum sees aging rockers Grinderman and Suicide which many younger bands could learn a lot from if they were less bothered about their career strategy


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