reative misogyny is a dying art.
The difference between the good stuff and the worthless stuff is that the former usually comes from a place of weakness rather than strength. Think of the Stones’ "Under My Thumb," where all the menace in Jagger’s voice is really just bitterness at the memory of how he was once equally misused. Or practically the whole of Elvis Costello's This Year’s Model, where the only thing trumping the cruelty is self-annihilating masochism.
Throughout the debut release from Bad Seeds side project Grinderman, Nick Cave and his grizzled, hoary buddies treat sex like a weapon and women like power-mad despots, stockpiling munitions for a miserable, prolonged Cold War. Of course it’s incredibly reductive and insulting to present such a narrow and unflattering depiction of the fairer sex, but there’s also never any question of who’s really in charge.
The opener, "Get It On," may offer up the picture of a primordial rocker who "fucked the girls you’re probably married to," but that ladykiller’s a red herring here. The real tenor of the record is set by the following song, "No Pussy Blues," which as of this writing is 2007's greatest single. For the uninitiated, it’s basically a litany of graying, fading Cave’s attempts to get into a young lass’s pants (reciting poetry, performing a variety of ‘round-the-house chores), his every hilariously plausible, exquisitely torturous gesture and favor met with some painful variation on the phrase "she just doesn’t want to." The sort of fucked-up and completely terrific thing about the song is that by the end you’re actually rooting for the poor asshole to get his rocks off, truly the mark of a top-notch pig’s anthem.
There’s plenty more of this marvelously pitiable, leeringly unfulfilled business too, beginning with the slash ‘n’ burn rocker "Depth Charge Ethel," wherein Cave begs his foul temptress for "just a little exclusivity" and later hysterically cries, "to kiss Ethel is like drinking the stars / But to not kiss her can make you come unglued," sounding for all the world like he’s suffering symptoms of the latter. The boys follow that up with the comically composed, faux-serious griping of "Go Tell the Women," in which Cave introduces another of his great theories on sexual dissatisfaction, namely the idea that men evolved from Neanderthals into aesthetes strictly for the purposes of convincing women they’re not wholly obsessed with fucking, only they’re still obsessed with fucking and bloody tired of pretending otherwise. A real sweetheart, that Nick.
So what exactly could have provoked this torrent of horny, knuckle-dragging bile? I’m guessing Cave’s formal introduction to the phallus better known as the electric guitar played a significant role. Playing the instrument for the first time on record, Cave’s axe-work is inexpertly liberating, forcing the rest of the band to dumb down and pummel their grooves with Stooges-like glee. As complement and color to his lyrical peccadilloes, Cave’s guitar is brilliantly on-point, literally jizzing all over tracks like "Depth Charge Ethel" and "No Pussy Blues," lacerating reminders of how so many boys who’ve lacked Cave’s verbal prowess have communicated their own pent-up masturbatory angst through six-string rave-ups.
Abrasive battles between the sexes don’t dominate the record entirely, but they do account for most of its better moments. The lyrically conjoined suite of "Electric Alice" and "Grinderman" (both featuring images of moonlight and "silver rain") is effectively depressive, the former serviced by wailing electric violin while the latter chugs along imperturbably like Sabbath on ‘ludes. Likewise, the organ-fueled screamer "Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars)" gives way to the drearily touching fragment "Man in the Moon," with Cave wallowing in abjection, pining for the "astronaut" father who "went away too soon."
It’s mostly top-flight crudity, though admittedly the album’s intensity wanes over its second half. Fortunately there’s one last blast of vituperative goo before the curtain falls, the pounding, impotent meltdown "Love Bomb." Revisiting his theme of how modern niceties are stealing masculinity, Cave addresses a lover who’s busy reproaching him with the withering take-down "you used to love me all night long / But you've gotten so thin and sick." What can a poor guy do, Cave seems to be callously but compellingly suggesting throughout the record, when you’re supposed to be equally adept at screwing and cuddling? Of course women deserve better, but sadly and perhaps pathetically this is the best we can do. Cave ultimately resolves to "send you a love bomb," but it’s unclear whether he’s reaching back for one last fastball or whether he just wants to blow up the whole awful courtship and mating ritual altogether.