If Nick Cave's last album with The Bad Seeds, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus, was an opera triumphing on closing night, Grinderman is a smoke break during rehearsal, a place where Nick Cave can just be Nick Cave. (That's "Nick Cave" as in a character who already contains more personas than a loony bin.) It's also supposed to be a place where Cave and three Bad Seeds can write spontaneously, as the typewriter noise at the beginning of "No Pussy Blues" deliberately reminds the audience: Right as the drums kick up, the typewriter dings, and Cave presumably dashes over to the mic with his still-drying lyric sheet in hand.
In spite of the growling green monkey on the cover, Cave isn't satisfied with just being his primal self. Instead, he's at his best when making windy melodrama sound crude, and most trustworthy when he's most artificial. Instead of repainting for Grinderman, he's gotten hip to exposed brick and scraped down in a hurry, leaving a few remnants for good measure. "(I Don't Need You To) Set Me Free" could be a leftover from Abattoir Blues, and "When My Love Comes Down" recalls the slow burners of Let Love In through a sheet of static.
Spontaneous or not, Grinderman forces Cave to summon his basic strengths and little else. It favors the songwriting foundation that connects all of Cave's best albums, and—again, deliberately—downplays the tinkering that kept those albums from sounding alike. The result is a thorough reminder of what's majestic, funny, bizarre, and poetic about Cave. Which means it's probably the most redundant album this frequently repetitive artist will ever make, but life inside the loony bin never grows stale.