Nick Cave's Fresh Propositions

A beautiful, somewhat unsettling body of work that combines the progressive leanings of his music with a sense of place evoking the desolate setting of the film

Feature by Jasper Hamill | 17 Mar 2006

In a career that has seen him stoving Kylie's head in with a rock, fathering children in different continents simultaneously and, after much deliberation, finding God, Nick Cave has gotten around to making a film, 'The Proposition'.

Released simultaneously with its soundtrack featuring Warren Ellis, the multi-intrumentalist frontman of The Dirty Three, the film, set in 'the savage Eden of 1880's Australia,' follows directly from the narrative style of Nick Cave's song writing.

Recently touring with Warren Ellis on violin, Cave reinvented his songs in the style of his first band The Birthday Party, layering his savagely emotive songs with textures reminiscent of those created by John Cale in the Velvet Underground. Playing to a sit-down audience in Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall, Warren Ellis, the unexpected star of the show, strangled dissonance and melody from his put-upon violin, falling onto his back, overcome by the power of the music.

Performing the hits, albeit in a dragged-through-the-bush style, he segued through a slow-core version of the Mercy Seat, submerged The Weeping Song in a sludgy mass of distorted violin and got up from piano to play guitar on Tupelo, lyrically the closest thing to the narrative of his new film. Compelling, noisy and beautiful, the gig was balm to those who thought Nick had gone soft, and was easily one of the best gigs I've ever attended. A fine performance from a man whose hubris, or humour, led him to commission a statue of himself in his home town outside Melbourne in Australia, he continues to be a true icon of the outlaw spirit in rock and roll.

The soundtrack to the film is an abstract collage of avant-folk drones, twinkles of old-time country and snatched fragments of poetry. Designed not to interfere with the film, yet stand as a piece of music in its own right, it is a beautiful, somewhat unsettling body of work that combines the progressive leanings of his music with a sense of place evoking the desolate setting of the film. Cave describes the film as "similar to the way in which my band works," with "moments of intense violence and moments of long, lyrical, quiet sadness."

Having written a book called 'The Ass and The Angel', released a taped lecture on the mechanics of love songs and performed at poetry festivals - where he famously persuaded Kylie to read the lyrics to I Should Be So Lucky - he is no stranger to literary endeavour. Coming out of the smack years and having shaken his "bad working habits," Cave is reinvigorated, God-struck yet unafraid of the dark lyrical subject matter of his previous work.

He has sung about convicts on death row, seditious figures that promise the world but conceal a "red right hand," beneath their coat and the death of several of his lovers; he seems, despite his conversion, to relish the sanguinary intensity of his several different incarnations. Always fashion conscious, he describes his look as "New Labour: a cross between Tony Blair and Tony Montana," and met his wife beneath a brachiosaur at a fashion show in the Natural History Museum.

The eccentric, country gent look attracted the people making a Gap advert, which he turned down by writing "Dear Gap. I might put on a pair of your jeans if you were to pay me a billion pounds, but even then I would have serious reservations, signed Nick Cave," and he doesn't want his music to be "the soundtrack to Cornetto adverts." Although it's hard to see how the advert would be successful if it killed off its heroines and questioned its hero's tenuous relationship with God, his adherence to an art-for-art's-sake rationale is invigoratingly stubborn. Now he's sure of the afterlife, it will never die either.

The original soundtrack to The Proposition will be released on March 6, the film on March 10.