Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - The Proposition: Original Soundtrack Review
By Travis Becker
Soundtracks often lack context when committed to record and pulled away from the visual spectacle they ultimately highlight. Sometimes merely cobbled together collections of popular songs, and other times overly subtle, mood-music pieces, soundtracks often lack interest or direction when left on their own to survive. The 2006 original soundtrack to indie film, The Proposition, composed by the inimitable Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds collaborator, Warren Ellis, suffers no such irrelevancy or anemia. A bold collection of pure Cave, the soundtrack basks and thrives in the attitude of the composers rather than wilting under the glare of the film's bright lights.
While the Proposition soundtrack exists light years beyond the early off-kilter Punk and Goth spectacle of Cave's early career, it charts on the evolutionary timeline somewhere at least close to Nick Cave's more recent melancholia. Composed and performed largely on instruments appropriate for the film's late nineteenth century setting, a dark, simple mood dominates the recording. The Proposition tells the story of outlaw brothers in Australia in 1880. Cave, who also wrote the script to the movie, fills the bleak landscape with sadness and foreboding in this delicately crafted music, acting as almost a second director to John Hillcoat and setting the mood. Ellis's loops and aching violin gently, but persistently drive the listener in the direction he wants them to go. Given the sadness and urgency of the music, the film promises to be both violent and enlightening all at the same time. The characters, played by the likes of Guy Pearce and John Hurt, will be lucky to be alive and kicking atthe end. They may be lucky to want to be.
Lyrically, there isn't much here. Cave clearly felt his script covered most of the speaking parts quite adequately. Even when there are vocals in the songs, very often they are used as just another instrument creating just another sonic texture throughout the piece. On "Moan Thing" Cave's ultra-low register moans provide a strong counterpart to the rippling bass line. Several of the compositions, such as "The Proposition #1" and "Road to Banyon" are short, mood-setting pieces, which are mostly sparse, allowing for plenty of room to move within their ethereal, windswept piano and violin. The proper songs such as "The Rider Song" and "Down to the Valley" fit nicely into Cave's canon, and the companion pieces, like "The Rider #1" flesh things out, contrasting the flesh-flayed image on the albums back cover. A couple of traditional numbers, "Happy Land" and "Clean Hands, Dirty Hands", bookend the soundtrack and lend themselves to the authenticity of this musical journey, while Cave's arrangements tie the whole package together nicely.
The Proposition: Original Soundtrack is not Nick Cave's first soundtrack work, but it may be his best. From start to finish, the auditory communication in this film belongs to Nick Cave. His words, his music-tying his vision together for both heralds a creation that will speak to movie-goers and music-lovers alike. Through words and music, Cave creates a harmony really captured in Hollywood or in any major recording studio in New York, London, or LA. A soundtrack that can stand on its own two legs can be an amazing thing. The characters in this film should be so lucky by its end.
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