Nick Cave The Proposition (with Warren Ellis)

[Mute; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: singer-songwriter, post-punk
Others: Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Magazine, David Byrne, Dirty Three

Sometimes hearing a song off of a soundtrack or score can convince me that I am going to like a film. "Martha's Dream" off of The Proposition, the soundtrack to the film of the same name, does just that. A subtly angular bassline accentuates a melody coming from the unmistakably rich tone of Warren Ellis' violin. As the violin multi-tracks, the bass drops out, and the song floats along until the bass is brought back and the violin whirls into a haunting motif. The music, paired with the track's title, holds the potential for exquisite imagery.

It's fitting to believe that the mood conjured by "Martha's Dream" will be on par with the imagery of the film, as the script was co-written by Cave himself along with director John Hillcoat. No stranger to narrative, Cave has written the novel And The Ass Saw The Angel in addition to the long list of striking ballads in his career as a songwriter. The Proposition promises to be gothic in the way only Cave can manage: as an Australian Western set in the Outback in the 1880s starring Guy Pearce and Emily Watson.

If the music predicts the tone of the film, this is going to be an unrelentingly bleak film. Ellis' violin drones suggest the ironic claustrophobia of a desert that stretches as far as the eye can see, while his splashes of melody are nothing if not mournful. Cave makes his most discernable contributions with his vocals, sometimes verbal, sometimes merely humming or moaning, as in the standout track "Moan Thing." The surprising center to the soundtrack is the bass. Its rhythms carry much of the weight often moving at a dreadfully slow pace, and at other times menacing in its insistence; even its absence is notable in that pieces without it seem to have an especially ethereal quality.

Finishing off the set are the two "songs." "The Rider Song" takes what is hinted at in parts one and two of "The Rider" and turns it into a melody far too light and appealing for me to believe that it will actually show up in the film. However, on its own it is remarkably gorgeous, sounding like it came straight off of The Boatman's Call. "Clean Hands, Dirty Hands," then, is an expansion of parts one through three of "The Proposition," and finishes off the album in a more suitably bleak tone than the "Rider Song." Given its bleak nature and its occasional obviousness as incidental music for the film, The Proposition is an absolute winner, and shows Cave and Ellis moving in exciting directions.

1. Happy Land
2. The Proposition #1
3. Road To Banyon
4. Down To The Valley
5. Moan Thing
6. The Rider #1
7. Martha's Dream
8. Gun Thing
9. Queenie's Suite
10. The Rider #2
11. The Proposition #2
12. Sad Violin Thing
13. The Rider #3
14. The Proposition #3
15. The Rider Song
16. Clean Hands, Dirty Hands

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