Grinderman 2 finds Nick Cave once again joining forces with fellow Bad Seeds Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos and Martyn Casey to create aggressive and libidinous rock closer in spirit to his earlier work than to the Seeds’ most recent outings. While 2 hardly represents a complete break from its predecessor — “Kitchenette” reprises its loose, dirty blues and lascivious lyrics — it’s a far more carefully worked out and nuanced album. While it retains the energy and spontaneity of the band’s first outing, it couples it with a stronger, more varied set of material, building on its strengths, but standing head and shoulders above it.
As though to counteract his late-1990s turn to melancholy ballads and insist that he hasn’t gone mellow with age, Cave has been trying to play up his gritty side for some time now, beginning with 2003’s weak Nocturama. Only with Grinderman 2, however, does he fully succeed in making his case: despite the fact the songs here sound more produced and less ragged than those on the first album, Cave finally seems to have settled back into an unforced, spontaneous quality that was sometimes lacking on Grinderman and Dig, Lazarus, Dig. In short, he no longer sounds as though he’s trying too hard, or as though he has something to prove.
On one hand, 2 simply boasts a stronger set of songs than its predecessor, and strong sequencing reinforces this impression. More importantly, however, is the huge musical leap that the band has clearly taken, straying from the palate of the previous album in favor or much denser and more nuanced territory. Cave and Co. delve deep into psychedelia, deploying tape loops and backwards guitar on “Bellringer Blues” and a plethora of processed sounds and atmospherics; even the straightforward rockers like “Worm Tamer” reveal a surprising amount of complexity and density. Any effort at stylistic coherence seems to be thrown to the wind as well, as though Cave were no longer concerned with defining this band against the Bad Seeds or his other work: album highlight “When My Baby Comes,” with its slow build to climax and its droning expansiveness, evokes Cave and Ellis’s film scores, while the athemic “Palaces of Montezuma” falls closer in line with more recent Bad Seeds.
Grinderman 2‘s variety and complexity never feels like a reach, and doesn’t keep the album from cohering beautifully. Cave summons all of his powers here in full force in order to create a nearly flawless album (only the puzzling throwaway “What I Know” misses the mark). It’s a remarkably fresh and energetic outing that successfully combines the bravura and ambition of his early works with the carefully calibrated craft of his more recent ones.