This just in: Nick Cave’s mid-life crisis has ended.
Cave announced the break-up of his “rock” side project Grinderman at a recent festival performance in his native Australia.
Formed in 2006 with key current members of his long-time musical collective the Bad Seeds (Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos and Martyn P. Casey), Grinderman has, over the course of two records and various tours, been taking valuable time away from their more rewarding full-time gig.
I understand the idea of Grinderman and can respect it: Cave and his cohorts started the project as an outlet to get back to basic rock fundamentals and escape the “weight” of the Bad Seeds — lyrically, musically and even regarding the number of musicians within the band.
It’s also painfully clear that Cave was trying to recapture the dangerous energy of his early days with the Birthday Party (in my mind, the most perfect rock and roll band ever). And to his credit, it’s clear that even in his mid ’50s, it’s still slightly less embarrassing to see the Cave rocking out than it is other old school heroes. That’s only because he is still a man possessed by his art, who continually follows his muse even when it leads him to the wrong spot.
The Birthday Party — a young Cave along with Mick Harvey, Rowland S. Howard, Tracy Pew and Phil Calvert — was a violent, visceral, Euro art punk beast that ate up pieces of American blues, murder ballads and folklore and combined that with junkie sex and biblical history. In return they spat out thought-provoking lyrical bile and stinging shards of music as colorful, beautiful and cutting as stained glass.
With the Bad Seeds, Cave continued his lyrical trajectory, but placed it over a more mature, rich musical tapestry. Over the course of a number of successful albums completed with a rotating cast of musicians, Cave created a style of balladry and musical storytelling that not only weaved its way through his earlier influences, but reached a depth of dedication to craft that all artists should aspire to. Take a listen to the classic death row lament of “The Mercy Seat” or even the recent, humorous “Dig Lazarus Dig” for an example.
Alternately, Grinderman, offered fragments of songs, simplified rock runs and dirge-like, dirty grooves created under the guise of loose experimentation. Over that, Cave moaned off-the-cuff, lascivious lyrical musings with titles like “No Pussy Blues,” “Get It On” and “Worm Tamer.” It was interesting at first but really ended up just being sleazy (actually just creepy) and ultimately rang hollow and outlandish.
Maybe he just needed a break; it’s understandable given the amount and quality of work that Cave has given fans over the course of three decades now.
The youthful excitement of his work in the Birthday Party and the grace and wisdom of the Bad Seeds will continue to offer the challenges and rewards that the very best art always does. Conversely, Grinderman ends up kind of like the greasy, aging co-worker that continually tells you dirty jokes about their weekend trip to the strip club, forever unable to see that they’re really making you uncomfortable rather than entertaining you.
Michael Behrenhausen is a Denver-based writer, musician and regular Reverb contributor. The worst crime he ever did was play some rock ‘n’ roll.