BY ED KING ROCK CONNOISSEUR I’ve spent a lot of time with two would-be badass albums over the last month: Grinderman, the boys’ night out Stooge-fest by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and the Heartless Bastards’ sophomore album, All This Time. Both come out of the gates looking for a rumble, which is fine by me in these days of 8-piece grad-school folkie orchestras and glossy-but-anemic 80s dance-punk replicants.
“Gray” kicks off the Heartless Bastards album, throwing down a two-chord gauntlet and making full use of the throaty, 4 Non Blondes chick-like lead vocals of dynamo Erika Wennerstrom. The first time I played it in my car I kept inching up the volume, feeling certain I’d reach new song nirvana. Damn, a chorus into the song I felt like pulling up to some asshole at a red light and pummeling him for the sport of it! As the song went on and the inevitable scorching solo section presented itself, however, no one stepped to the fore. Was this a deliberate act of post-punk economy and reserve? I tried to play along with the new economy, but every time one of these back-alley songs, such as “New Resolution” and “The Will Song,” came on and I anticipated a stock Johnny Thunders lead part or a Ron Asheton-inspired fuzz-wah solo, there was nothing more than a few empty measures. I was reminded of my long-held belief that rock trios are usually a sign of a dysfunctional and socially inept set of musicians. In the case of Heartless Bastards, however, the powerful lead singer is a rudimentary and lone rhythm guitar player. Her drummer and bassist are adequate and committed but not enough for support in a dark alley. Somebody get Wennerstrom a lead guitarist who can provide the extra muscle this band’s music so badly requires.
Grinderman, on the other hand, is a visceral blast, a well-read aesthete’s toy chest of brutal wah-wah sexuality, mid-life crisis misogyny, and dirty dick humor. Leave the women and children at home, my brothers, as well as the poetry, the screenplays, and the piano! Cave sports a badass Fu Manchu for this short album, and his bandmates wear the full he-man beards of their penal colony forefathers. “Get It On” opens the album with Cave’s voodoo-preacher schtick and chain gang backing vocals from his bandmates. It’s more of the same in the album’s single, “No Pussy Blues.” In this song, when I expect to hear an orgasmic guitar solo, I do! The album maintains this late-80s Aussie garage vibe through songs like “Electric Alice,” “Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars),” and “Depth Charge Ethel,” easily the funnest song I’ve ever heard from Mr. Cave. Yar, this will serve you well at sea, me mateys.