Since there are those who insist they prefer Bob Dylan's songs sung by someone else, there are probably also people who would prefer Nick Cave's music without his singing. As the kingpin of "Morgue Rock" (which I just coined to describe a genre of rock music that befits a funeral home), Cave obsesses on damnation sermons and finding ways to half-empty the glass, no matter what the occasion. He's always done so in two modes — either as a pitch-challenged crooner likely to urinate on the flowers, or as a bellowing drunk intent on shouting down the opposition. Rubbing out his very central-to-the-aesthetic lead vocals actually still leaves plenty of music to mourn by.
Cave's been writing soundtrack music since 1989, beginning with Ghosts ... of the Civil Dead, but the past few years have seen him team up with his current Bad Seed band mate Warren Ellis for 2005's The Proposition and last year's Brad Pitt-starring Jesse James film (which, for some reason, has now just been released as a soundtrack album) with effective results. Ellis' mournful violin sawing and Cave's spare, downtrodden piano notes supply the ominous feel you'd expect both from this somber duo and from a movie telling the story of an outlaw about to be killed. The extra kickstep of "Moving On" indicates motion. The extra electric guitar added to "Cowgirl" and "Carnival," however, seems a tad unnecessary, slightly breaking the chamber room gloom for a jam in the garage out back.
But "Rather Lovely Thing," "Song for Jesse," "The Money Train" "Another Rather Lovely Thing" (think "Lovely Thing, Slight Return") and "Counting the Stars" all melt together, almost like tone poems for people seeking music to die by. Which, if you're in the market for Nick Cave, sounds just about right. Whether or not your plants would survive constant replays? Well, studies are still out.
Rob O'Connor writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].