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Album Review
The Road Soundtrack

The Road Soundtrack
by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis


Review Date
8th February 2010
Reviewed by
Brannavan Gnanalingam

American novelist Cormac McCarthy is hot property at the moment from Oprah Winfrey book club praise to Oscar Winning adaptations (No Country for Old Men). His 2007 novel The Road was a runaway success (personally I think it’s rather overrated – give me the hallucinations of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian), and was adapted in a film by John Hillcoat. Hillcoat, who made his name on the Nick Cave penned and scored Aussie Western The Proposition asked Cave and Dirty 3/Bad Seeds/Grinderman’s Warren Ellis to do the soundtrack for The Road, and hoped the Aussie institutions’ magic touch would do wonders for the film atmosphere. Unfortunately, Cave and Ellis failed.

Given this is a Hollywood film with a big name cast, and given Hollywood’s penchant for emotion-manipulating soundtracks (rather than using music in any sort of thematic, oppositional, or interesting way - obviously I’m generalising in a loose sense) Cave and Ellis soundtrack is nothing more than audience hand-holding muzak. It’s devoid of any risk-taking, of little use in a non-filmic context, and even in a filmic setting simply fulfils the type of manipulation which has led to Hollywood soundtracks particularly of the last decade to be completely forgettable.

Sure the music itself is nice. It’s pleasant to listen to at points and some of the tunes (such as ‘The Road’, ‘The Real Thing’, or when the guitars explode for a wee bit during ‘The House’) are interesting enough given the genius that Cave and Ellis possess. However much of the soundtrack is the type of stock horror film soundtrack, and does little to differentiate itself from sounding like standard background music. If anything, if Nick Cave in particular wasn’t involved, this soundtrack probably wouldn’t be notable enough to sell as a stand alone album.

Having not seen the film, it’s hard to judge the efficacy of the soundtrack without its corresponding images. But given a soundtrack should be integrally tied into the film, it’s not hard to imagine what the film would be like purely on listening to the soundtrack: sentimental, cheesy, obvious, unambiguous – almost entirely the opposite of what McCarthy’s novel itself is like. And it’s surprising that artists like Cave, who is an unashamed risktaker when it comes to the way his music works in film (e.g. The Wings of Desire, The Proposition), or Ellis, whose career is also full of sonic experimentation, would produce something as timid as this soundtrack.

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