Nick Cave

CD Review

"Kick those white mice and black dogs out! / Kick those white mice and baboons out! / Kick those baboons and other motherfuckers out and / Get it on!"

So bellows Nick Cave at the start of Grinderman, his new quartet's self-titled debut, out this week on Anti. The disc contains easily the most minimal, balls-out music Cave has made since fronting the bent-on-destruction Birthday Party 25 years ago. Basically a stripped-down version of his usual band, the lush, eight-man Bad Seeds, Grinderman consists of Cave on vocals and rudimentary guitar; radical multi-instrumentalist and Dirty Three leader Warren Ellis; versatile bassist Martin P. Casey, who has never gotten the credit he deserves for leading the Bad Seeds away from their early reliance on repetitious Bo Diddley-isms and toward actual grooves, beginning with 1994's Let Love In; and drum-basher Jim Sclavunos (formerly of Sonic Youth).

The music of Grinderman is a far cry from Cave's mid-'90s penchant for Leonard Cohen-like balladry. It's menacing and hilarious and catchy and raw and varied, writhing, shuffling, exploding and, most importantly, rocking all the way through its 11 songs. Fans of the classic Stooges albums who feel left out in the cold by that reformed band's disappointing recent Weirdness will have little trouble warming up to this stuff.

"Go Tell the Women" is a cheesy but somehow hard-edged retro-lounge-style track in which Cave seems to announce, on behalf of his entire gender, that the battle of the sexes is finally over and that we're taking our balls and going home. "All we wanted was a little consensual rape in the afternoon / and maybe a bit more in the evening," he explains, perhaps a little too matter-of-factly. Similarly hilarious (or not, depending) is the frantic, self-explanatory "No Pussy Blues," lamenting a romantic partner who perpetually "didn't want to" (check out the lascivious, bestial video on Grinderman's MySpace at your own risk). Grinderman's overarching themes seem to be frustrated sex, along with space travel, reaching an apotheosis on the Nuggets-like garage punk of "Honey Bee (Let's Fly To Mars)," replete with hysterically buzzing background vocals.

As if all this flailing and gnashing of teeth weren't enough, Mute Records has also recently released a four-disc set (two CDs and two DVDs) documenting Cave's tour for 2005's Abattoir Blues, which finds him leading a 12-piece version of the Bad Seeds through his sometimes maniacal, sometimes nuanced repertoire.

Cave's peculiarly effortless charisma commands total attention on the DVDs, whether he's seated at his piano in balladeer mode or stalking, staggering and swaggering across the stage like a profane, psychotic preacher. This last impression isn't hurt by the presence of four members of the London Community Gospel Choir, recruited for the tour, who sing ragged harmony and engage Cave in call-and-response throughout the show, increasing the already thick level of melodrama to sometimes unbearable intensity. The choir's presence on Cave's ultra-obscene rewrite of the classic blues "Stagger Lee" ("I'd climb over 50 good pussies just to get to one fat boy's asshole," quotes the legendary badass, before shooting the devil himself four times in the head) makes the already crazed arrangement all the more shocking and joyfully, viciously wrong.

The reason all this stuff works as well as it does is that Cave is, at core, a storyteller. And it's obvious that he really wants the audience to get every word. The last pre-encore song on the 2004 Brixton Academy, London concert which fills the entirety of the first DVD is a version of "There She Goes, My Beautiful World" that soars with infectious desperation and more energy than most vocalists could muster at the startof a show. This is all the more fitting as the song is a transparently personal and upbeat meditation on literature, art, immortality and rock and roll, all subjects of life-defining importance to the singer, who at times seems to be physically leaping from his skin trying to get it all out.

The second DVD contains an odd but compelling live set of deep-catalog numbers filmed on the 2003 tour for Nocturama, as well as several hilarious promo videos (the almost 15-minute goof on "Babe I'm on Fire," which finds eight Bad Seeds playing dress-up as nearly 100 characters, and "Bring It On," featuring a mysterious and completely inappropriate troop of booty dancers, each merit special study).

Cave turns 50 in September, an event that his original fans would have found, um, improbable at best. Having long ago survived his youthful self-destructive tendencies (he was something like the Pete Doherty of the '80s), Cave is now an international star, huge nearly everywhere on the globe though still a fringe figure in America. He's a settled-down family man married to retired supermodel Susie Bick, as well as a respected screenwriter who penned last year's acclaimed, brutally violent The Proposition as well as a new pitch-dark comedy entitled Death of a Ladies' Man, currently in production.

But all of that success hasn't served to calm Cave down one bit. Restless to the point of compulsion, these five new discs could easily amount to a victory lap. Instead they display all the reckless vitality of an emerging artist. As the man said: Get it on.

 
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