Wild Mercury Sound

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Music From The Motion Picture The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

John Mulvey

Another day, another disc from the Miles Davis "On The Corner" box set, and someone (John McLaughlin?) appears to have turned up with a sitar. Most bracing. Before we embarked on this, though, we played the new Nick Cave & Warren Ellis soundtrack, a musical sequel of sorts to their score for "The Proposition" from a couple of years ago.

Cave seems to have a fairly prodigious workrate these days, which seems to suggest that sensible office hours and a healthy lifestyle can fuel deranged creativity just as effectively as more conventional rock'n'roll debauchery. After the excellent Grinderman set from earlier this year, "The Assassination Of Jesse James" very consciously presents another side of Cave and Ellis; so instead of bloodthirsty ramalams we get sombre, expansive instrumentals invested with a kind of still, withering gravitas.

No jokes about Gardener's Question Time, then. Instead, Cave privileges his high aesthetic side, sometimes lost beneath all the blood and thunder. "The Assassination" has a fuller, richer feel than "The Proposition", and I guess you could perilously trace a creative strand from these gradually unfolding melodies back to "The Boatman's Call".

As with "The Proposition", I suppose it'd be easy to assume this instrumental music - calculated to evoke deserts, hard men doing morally indeterminate things and such - might recall The Dirty Three, given the prominence of Warren Ellis. But Ellis' violin-playing is again much more subdued than with his own band; there are none of the florid, occasionally showy, flurries that make The Dirty Three, for me, initially impressive but ultimately a bit wearying.

It sometimes seems as if there are distinct guiding principles behind these Cave extra-curricular activities, as if they're ruthlessly managed by him as theoretical projects. Grinderman, I guess, are defined by abandon and irreverence, while "The Assassination" is all about dignity and restraint; he's not averse to wryly mocking himself here, though, hence the opening track being called "Rather Lovely Thing", which it is, actually.

I wonder where all this compartmentalising is going to leave the new Bad Seeds album, scheduled for sometime early next year? In theory, Cave's flagship project is the place where he can move between extremes more easily, probably with a greater focus on Bible imagery. But maybe the two poles he's visited this year might encourage Cave to go and find an adjusted direction for his main music. Unlikely, but you never know. . .


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