Lawless – The Soundtrack

by deerinthexenonarclights

Hearing that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds made one of the more interesting albums of the year is something of a commonplace experience, it could be said of many years since they formed in the seventies, but what about Nick Cave & the Bootleggers? If I were to say that they had recently released one of the most intriguing albums of late, wouldn’t that be new?

‘The Bootleggers’ is the pseudonym that Cave and his conjoined collaborator Warren Ellis coined for themselves while working on the soundtrack for a film the former also scripted, John Hillcoat’s Lawless, and it is a very apt one; the pair don’t promote themselves as the stars of the album, instead they shadow behind other singers on their six strings, only popping up on occasion to deliver a punch of something potent.

I would have been disappointed by this if it wasn’t for the fact that they have chosen such a strange and diverse line-up of replacement faces: Ralph Stanley, Emylou Harris and Mark Lanergan to be exact, though those names shouldn’t necessarily mean all that much to you. What might catch your eye though are the names of the tracks that they sing, among them the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat and Captain Beefheart’s Sure ’nuff Yes I do.

The tracks, which have been plucked from multiple periods of our timeline, are all recorded in a style that suits the era even if their lyrics do not. Hearing Cave’s bass and Ellis’ bowstrings turned towards authentically bluegrass renditions, like the completely charming White Lightning / White Heat cover that eighty five year old folk singer Ralph Stanley turns in is a strange but memorable experience, one that suggests the film featuring them won’t be half as generic as its title.

All good film scores establish hooks, themes and rhythms that they then repeat to dramatic and emotional effect; this soundtrack though takes that idea to the next level with Cave and Ellis employing dueling covers alongside the dueling banjo’s. On the thirteen track album there are only seven different songs, the majority of the tracks repeated a second time in a different style with a different singer and one of them even appears a third time.

So White Heat is both a slow acapella as I mentioned before and a rowdy old-time anthem that would play well over any alcohol fueled montage. Interestingly Cave also says that he scripted the film with these songs in mind, the score recorded before shooting began; so that these changes in the songs tones, tenor and tempo will more than tenuously reflect the changes in the story, something that a song-based score can’t normally succeed at.

Is it their best work? Is it their best score? Is it an album that I will spin forever and ever? No on all counts (and its not like a score could never be, the pair’s Assassination of Jesse James is among my all time favorite albums. I hope that there is still a score for this coming out soon), but it is such a surprising soundtrack and one that has gotten me even more excited for the film because of that fact, and who am I kidding, hearing any new Nick Cave material makes me feel like this:

Cutest damn couple you ever seen.