In the world of music, the 'difficult second album' is very much like the troublesome sequel in a movie franchise. Often overambitious and poorly realised, both movie sequels and sophomore albums always run the risk of trying to offer too much and spoiling the formula fans found so engaging in the first place or, on the other hand, simply dropping into stale repetition. The Nick Cave-led Grinderman's follow up to their self-titled debut of 2007, the aptly-titled Grinderman 2, though, is very much a Terminator 2 or Aliens type deal; it builds from the original while still keeping the essentials of their sound well in play.
Wading out into more psychedelic waters compared to the vitriolic and swaggering blues-punk of the first album, Grinderman 2 sees Cave and his Bad Seed chums Warren Ellis, Martyn P. Casey and Jim Sclavunos toying with same rudimentary components present on the first album, only this time the scope is understandably larger.
Lyrically the themes are more ambitious and thought out, with Cave delivering much more esoteric and ambiguously poetic lyrics, leaving space for instrumental freakouts and just generally playing a more supportive role. He's still the leading man, no doubt, but the supporting cast have been allowed their own monologues here and there, and the effect is that Grinderman 2 feels far more fleshed out and full bodied than its predecessor.
“With Grinderman 2 we made a conscious decision to create a different sound to the first album, although I think it’s fair to say that the specific nature of that sound didn’t follow any kind of pre-planned blueprint,” Sclavunos says. “We don’t like to repeat ourselves if we can avoid it; try new ideas, push ourselves creatively – all that good stuff. I’d say, compared to the first album, it’s more atmospheric. It feels more open-ended: a bit less visceral and maybe a little more cerebral. It’s not like dream-pop psychedelia. It’s more like a mind-blowing hallucination: an assault, a psychedelic assault like Maggot Brain, or like Hawkwind.”
Shaped from raw material gathered out of improvised recording sessions at legendary producer Flood's Assault & Battery studios in Willesden, London, the album holds on to a sense of freewheeling urgency and danger difficult to capture on recordings. One that will no doubt be equally exhilarating to experience when the band recreate the myriad sounds on offer in the live arena when they tour in early 2011 with the Big Day Out.
The best part of the record – and likely in the subsequent live experience of Grinderman – is the fact that there is a sense that the whole thing could come crashing down around the band in a tumult of fuzzed out octave generators and seething sexual wordplay.
“The process feels very much like a series of wonderful failures in many ways,” Warren Ellis explains. “You’re going in there not really knowing what you’re looking for, but it feels like once you reach this point of collapse where everything falls apart, that out of sheer desperation, something comes out of it, and then it gets interesting.
“For me,: he continues, “the great part about making a record are the accidents that happen in the studio and the things that you just never expect to work out the way they did. It seems to me that when you go in with ideas, they’re quite often the ones that can let you down, because you think it’s going to work out in a certain way and it doesn’t.”
“We go into the studio, the four of us, we plug in, turn on and play and tape continuously for about four or five days and then we collect out of all that sea of stuff, we collect little snatches of songs that we think, well, snatches of music that we think have the potential to… that we can form some kind of song out of it,” Cave says.
This idea of revelling in the chaotic that runs through the project is what really sets Grinderman apart from Cave's other work. While looking in to the uninitiated the band could seem like a low fat version of The Bad Seeds – or just another excuse for Ellis and Cave to pursue their ongoing bromance – to those who have spent the time to get to know the music, it's much more than that. Grinderman are a band in the true meaning of the word, rather than a solo artist with accompanists, a fact reflected in the different ways Cave approaches the projects.
“The working process is different because with the Bad Seeds, although all things differ and all things change, basically, I sit on my own and come up with songs, certainly come up with the lyrics and the music and take these songs into a studio situation, present them to the band and they try to make these kind of inconsequential doodlings into something much more important and pleasing to the ear whereas with Grinderman we pretty much go in together,” says Cave.
“I mean, obviously we come in with our influences and thoughts on the thing, but really, once we start playing, all of that stuff seems to fall away and we arrive at something that a band would arrive at, something quite pure in that way, I think. There’s a purity to it and an abandon to Grinderman that I really like.”
This abandon makes an album that could have otherwise sounded tired and boring breathe with a sense of excitement, a sense the band are relishing every moment, that bleeds out of your speaker into your brain like some kind of jungle fungus.
At a time where too many artists are getting carried away on a wave of their own self importance, Grinderman choose to tap back into the raw passion that should surround music, offering an example of how serious artists need not avoid having fun when it comes to creating.
GRINDERMAN headline the upcoming BIG DAY OUT alongside Tool, Iggy & The Stooges, Primal Scream, MIA, LCD Soundsystem, Rammstein, Deftones, John Butler Trio, Wolfmother, Lupe Fiasco, The Black Keys, Die Antword, Angus & Julia Stone, Bliss N Eso CSS, and new announcees – Sia, The Vines, The Greenhornes and Washington. Tickets are sold out – but if you head to bigdayout.com you can join the ticket ballot.
Grinderman 2 is out now through EMI.
GRINDERMAN play The Palace on January 17.