The photo on the back cover of The Proposition soundtrack is of a half-crucified cowboy whose back is lacerated a la Jim Cavaziel in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The still is presumably from the film (unseen by me but praised by Slant’s Nick Schager) directed by John Hillcoat and written by Nick Cave, who also composed the score with fellow Bad Seeds member Warren Ellis. There is no moment on The Proposition soundtrack quite as brutal as the back cover image, but the album is not without its charms—although I should clarify that by “charms” I mean a thorough dose of gloom, misery, and overall spookiness.
The Proposition is a mood piece, and will probably better suit fans of Warren Ellis’s instrumental group, The Dirty Three, more than anyone eagerly awaiting a proper follow up to Nick Cave’s 2004 double album Abattoir Blues & Lyre Of Orpheus. There are a few “songs” here, but the bulk of the album is your typical Dirty Three dime-store concerto. Ellis saws his fiddle like a freebasing Itzhak Perlman while Cave moans in his upper register over drones, piano plinking, and the occasional guitar. And if you’re not sold yet, you’ll find the album’s unimaginative tracklist even less persuasive: there’s “Moan Thing,” “Gun Thing,” “Sad Violin Thing,” “The Rider #1,” “The Proposition #2,” etc. “The Rider Song” is the one to download if you’re just a casual Nick Cave fan—it’s the kind of sparse, lifting ballad that has been gracing his records lately (see: “Babe You Turn Me On,” “Right Out Of Your Hand”).
But this record works. The Proposition is a kind of western (it’s set in the Australian Outback), but don’t expect the Bad Seeds-trying-Ennio-Morricone. In fact, The Proposition is far more reminiscent of Passion, Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ. In particular, the humming and buzzing backdrops of “Down To The Valley” and “Moan Thing” recall that album’s Middle East-influenced, layered drones. Cave and Ellis’s arrangements are far starker than Gabriel’s, however, which contributes to The Proposition’s immediacy. Film scores tend to feel half-finished when isolated from their corresponding images, yet Cave and Ellis’ soundtrack works better as a whole than most records in recent memory.