When Nick Cave initiated the Grinderman project, its purpose seemed to be that of a storm channel for the sewers of his subconscious. After a period in which his work with the Bad Seeds had become increasingly sedate and contemplative, Grinderman was a Mexican-moustached gonzo garage-rock outlet for his still-smouldering wilder side; a dirty, noisy exorcism.
Second time around, however, the Jekyll/Hyde distinction between his musical vehicles seems less clear. (Grinderman have even trimmed back the face-fuzz.) So reinvigorated has Hove's favourite Aussie expat been by the experience that there's been something of a band merge (and not just in terms of personnel, where there is significant crossover), with the result that the last Bad Seeds album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! seemed to meet Grinderman halfway in terms of rawness and abandon.
And, conversely, the uninspiringly titled Grinderman 2 feels, at first listen, more measured (if not exactly mellow) than their 2007 debut. The illusion doesn't last long. Sure, "Palaces of Montezuma", on which Cave promises his lover the most exotic wonders of the ancient and modern worlds, is lovely and sweet, words you'd never previously have associated with Grinderman. Similarly, "What I Know", on which Cave invites his lover to "come over here" against a subdued, atonal noise bed that sounds like the spooky screech of distant train wheels, is challengingly experimental, but it's not a Grinderman song. Or, at least, not as we know it.
But any sense of security brought on by these subdued passages is entirely false. Every moment of quietude on opening track "Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man" is only the calm before the storm, and you're only ever seconds away from some great Stooges-like conflagration, while the closing "Bellringer Blues" is more Quasimodo than Songs of Praise campanologist, with its twisted Indian strings (a light undercurrent of Eastern psych having run intermittently through the album like stitching).
In between, Grinderman 2 is an album populated by monsters, of both the fairy-tale (big bad wolves and abominable snowmen) and human varieties. It is, inevitably, dark stuff in the main: the hypnotic "Heathen Child" taunt, "You think your children will protect you? You think your government will protect you? You are wrong."
"When My Baby Comes", with lines such as "they threw me to the ground and emptied their bullets into me... I was only 15", recalls Cave's classic tale of perdition, "Papa Won't Leave You Henry". And "Evil", in which the lust-crazed Cave impels you to "come with me baby in this rented room", is just off the hook.
But there are moments of exquisite comedy. On the otherwise-steamy "Worm Tamer" ("You know I'm only happy when I'm inside her"), Cave wisecracks "My baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster/ Two great big humps, and then I'm gone".
Have no fear. Grinderman may have allowed themselves more room to breathe, although what they're breathing is acrid smoke of burning desire and murder most foul.