I’ll be completely honest. I sought out Grinderman 2 because I read it described somewhere as being Nick Cave’s midlife crisis project. Cave’s 53, not much older than me and that phrase “midlife crisis” struck a chord (make no mistake, I’m dealing with mine with finesse: I just bought a motorcycle. Yes, go ahead, laugh).Cave is an Australian musician, songwriter, screenplay writer, novelist and even an actor and has been associated with bands such as The Birthday Party and the better known Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. Those two bands date back to the 1980s, when Cave and his bandmates arrived in London and shook things up with their volatile music—a mad mélange of jazz, blues, punk and what I can only call wild Cave-ism.
Nearly three decades later in 2007, Cave, along with three members of The Bad Seeds, launched what you could call a mid-life side project, Grinderman. The first Grinderman album came out in 2007 and the second (Grinderman 2) dropped a couple of months back and has found a semi-permanent home, variously, on my iPod, car stereo and home music system.
Some classify Grinderman as “garage rock”. Others play it safe and call it alternative rock. I’d say it is Cave and his bandmates’ unique interpretation of the blues. I’ve heard rock bands that have used traditional blues as their fount of inspiration and so have you. Did not the Rolling Stones get inspired by the great American blues pioneers? Or for that matter Led Zeppelin? And a host of other British bands from the nineteen-sixties and the seventies? And what about more contemporary ones, such as Jack White’s The White Stripes and all his other projects? Or, the duo known as the Black Keys whose rough-hewn songs are a throwback to the way the blues were originally sung?
But Grinderman is different. For one, Cave and his bandmates do things with the blues that I haven’t heard anyone else do. Their lyrics are unapologetic and forthright, delivered in Cave’s snarling, raspy voice. Their music—lead guitar riffs, drums, a host of other unidentifiable noises—is unpredictable. And their general attitude, laden with irreverence, is instantly endearing. Here, try this, from the song, Kitchenette: “I keep hanging around your kitchenette/ And I’m gonna get a pot to cook you in/ I stick my fingers in your biscuit jar/ And crush all your Gingerbread Men.”
There’s one more reason than just the midlife crisis angle for buying Grinderman 2. I had read an excerpt of The Death of Bunny Munro, Cave’s second and latest novel, which deals with the bizarre life of a middle-aged salesman who is also a constant womanizer. I bought both Grinderman 2 and the novel together and found that they do complement each other rather well.
If Cave’s book and the new album took care of the grittier aspect of my musical needs, I also found myself craving for some innocent, fresh-faced pop songs. So it was nice to come across Allo Darlin’, the London band’s eponymous debut album, which is full of sweet love songs. Allo Darlin’ has been cubby-holed by critics into the genre known as twee pop—yes, that means exactly what it sounds like: sickly-sweet fare. But I would beg to disagree. I think front-woman Elizabeth Morris delivers the peppy pop tunes with far more polish than your average garden variety twee pop band. Just listen to Woody Allen, the song where she wonders who would play her in the movie of their lives: “In the movie of our lives, would Woody Allen write the screenplay?/ Not his best era, but certainly not his worst either/ But I wouldn’t like to be like Diane Keaton in Manhattan/ So cerebral, she runs away from any romance./ And although you’re neurotic and a little paranoid it doesn’t make me Annie, it doesn’t make you Alvy/ Woody Allen couldn’t play you, Woody Allen couldn’t play you/ I know you’d want him to but, he couldn’t play you.” I’d keep a watch on Allo Darlin’. They’re a band that could get real big.
The reason why I bought Avey Tare’s solo album, Down There, had much to do with the fact that he is one of the driving forces behind Animal Collective, the American experimental band (whose members have strange aliases; Avey Tarey is really David Portner) that I like very much. Avey Tare’s solo debut doesn’t disappoint, although I think you have to be an Animal Collective fan to really get hooked to Down There—I’d suggest trying his band’s Merriweather Post Pavilion or Strawberry Jam (the two most recent albums) before heading towards his solo project. Animal Collective’s Avey Tare and Panda Bear (real name Noah Lennox) are like a modern-day McCartney and Lennon pair. The two co-write much of Animal Collective’s work and influence most of what is produced finally. Animal Collective takes noise, gurgles, reverberations and blend all of that together with totally rubbish lyrics to make music that grows on you till you’re hopelessly hooked. I’m still listening to Avey Tare’s Down There and am happy to report that it seems to display the same properties as his band’s albums.