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Pity the soundtrack composer of a brand new Western, trying to fill the giant, hand-tooled cowboy boots of Ennio Morricone. His bold, innovative scores have defined a genre of film music for two or three generations.
But it hasn't inhibited Nick Cave and Bad Seed Warren Ellis in their score for The Assassination of Jesse James. Andrew Dominik's film, starring Brad Pitt as the eponymous outlaw, presents the last days of charismatic anti-hero James before his gunning down at the hands of a young acolyte, Robert Ford. This is no conventional Western tale of righted wrongs - it's more an intense interior drama, with the strange dynamic between James and Ford at its heart.
And the music which Cave and Ellis have come up with is far from generic. Unlike the largely heroic swagger of Morricone's music, the soundscape of ''Jesse James'' is claustrophobic, intense and emotionally fraught. The aptly titled ''Rather Lovely Thing'', the opening track, provides the simple chore melody for the whole film. Like many of the other tracks, it's bleak but beautiful, with gorgeous string arrangements (courtesy of Ellis) and Cave's signature wandering piano, the same few chords and discords reappearing in a haunting narrative.
Traditional instruments and rhythms are overlaid by other, stranger textures. Cave and Ellis fuse futuristic with traditional, layering country melodies with staticky soundloops, acoustic with electric. Take ''Cowgirl'', for instance, its folksy fiddle undercut by raw electric guitar.
Strange and lonely, the score is probably the most successful film collaboration of Cave and Ellis to date. You certainly won't be humming it as you stride to a showdown with the boss, but you have to admire its haunting loveliness. --Morag Reavley
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