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Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, ‘The Proposition: Original Soundtrack’ (Mute)

By: Joe Gross

Nick Cave turns 50 next year, a milestone that should make us all feel old. Cave’s been better for longer than virtually any “post-punk god” currently not dead. (He’s also been writing the same song for almost as longl this is called “Neil Young-ing it.”) But he’s had a hell of a run. First, the Aussie-born, London-weened doom manque was in the Birthday Party, the greatest post-Stooges band of them all, inspiring melodramatic punks, noise rockers, and anyone who ever went shirtless onstage or romanticized decadent Berlin junkies. Then he built a whole second career with the Bad Seeds, answering the musical question, What if Elvis made Scott Walker records?, inspiring melodramatic singer/songwriters, overbaked crooners, and anyone who ever wore a suit onstage or romanticized Mississippi drunks. And, until recently, he had the most consistently awesome hair in rock.

It helps that he always works with guitar geniuses who shape his barbed-wire heartache into murderous music, from lifelong multi-instrumental collaborator Mick Harvey to shrieking Birthday boy Rowland S. Howard and recently departed Baddest Seed Blixa Bargeld. Yet it may suggest something about Cave’s age that his most recent musical buddy has been a violinist, Warren Ellis, whose instrumental group Dirty Three seems perfectly in tune with Cave’s epic melancholy. Ellis and Cave collaborated on this droning backdrop to a movie cave wrote, a glorified vision of the bushranger life in Australia’s nineteenth century outback, when men were leathery and women were victims. “If I should die before my time/Bury me, baby, down in the sand,” Cave mumbles on the bluesy “Down to the Valley,” and it sounds like there aren’t enough grains in the world.

The Proposition is definitely a soundtrack, not an opera; it exists to color onscreen images. Cave’s few lyrics seem undeveloped, while Ellis’s expressive violin never quite has the emotional detail of his Dirty work. But as a piece of background noir, it’s pleasantly hypnotic. And it’s a decent introduction for Cave fans to Ellis’s singular vision, if not a perfect impression of his boss. As usual, Cave is only as good as the company he keeps. But then, aren’t we all?