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Nick Cave and Warren Ellis The Road Review

Soundtrack. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Cave and Ellis balance light and shade with some skill.

Louis Pattison 2009

Outside of their work together preaching a dark gospel in the Bad Seeds and Grinderman, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have turned a hand to a different, if not altogether unrelated musical calling – the film score. Soundtracks for 2006’s outlaw flick The Proposition and 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford have suggested the pair have some skill for transmuting the orchestral grandeur of their full-band projects into something that can colour around an unfolding narrative.

Scoring the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 novel The Road would seem like an easy fit. A post-apocalyptic tale of a man and his son struggling across a ruined landscape in search of a salvation that may or may not exist, it’s shot through with themes that are pretty much Cave’s bread and butter: violence, hardship, the prospect of a vengeful or uncaring God, and a plea for deliverance.

Yet The Road is not exactly what you expect. McCarthy’s book is compelling, a page-turner, but heavy on gloom and punishing to the last. Cave and Ellis’ score, though, seems fixated on those thin shafts of sunlight – as Cave explains it, “light, haunting, simple… with a sense of absence and loss at its heart”. And it’s true, much here has more the feel of a requiem than a death march. The Road and Storytime are calm and elegiac, tender piano augmented by Ellis’ softly mournful violin. Memory is softer still, incandescent drones redolent of Stars of The Lid.

There is, of course, tension here too – music for fear, and pursuit. Cannibals matches squalling, Stravinsky-like violins with the thud of heavy drums. The House, meanwhile, is genuinely chilling, building from an uncertain opening of shivering violin and low piano notes into a hectic soundtrack to pursuit, all screaming guitars and savage, lurching beats. As a collection, though, The Road balances light and shade with some skill.

Given the subject matter, it could have been bleak, monochromatic even – but here, in the hands of Cave and Ellis, hope springs eternal.

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