Release Date: May 17, 2011
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Stage & Screen
It's nice when dreams come true, and even better when the person has dreamed big. Superproducer Danger Mouse has for years been talking privately about a project inspired by 1960s-70s Italian film scores, and he didn't cut corners: He and co-composer Daniele Luppi booked a studio in Rome co-founded by Ennio Morricone, and reconvened the soundtrack guru's key musicians. Rome opens on the tumbleweedy voice of 76-year-old Edda Dell'Orso, who sang the haunting operatic vowels around Clint Eastwood in 1966's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Producer Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley fame) and Italian composer Luppi have joined forces — and enlisted the vocal talents of Jack White and Norah Jones — to celebrate their shared love of classic spaghetti-Western soundscapes á la Ennio Morricone. White and Jones howl as if beaten both by desert heat and in spirit. On Rome, they masterfully conjure up a love story fit for the silver screen — shoot-outs and tumbleweeds included.
While there’s no doubting the sheer cinematic brilliance of Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, when it comes to cult Italian cowboy movies, the cool kids have always had a thing for Django, Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 gory revenge epic, which features a hell-bound anti-hero dispatching colossal numbers of Mexican bandits with a machine gun which he drags into town in a coffin. The film has been a rich source of inspiration to everyone from Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry to Quentin Tarantino. Now you can add [a]Danger Mouse[/a] to that list.
It’s a pretentious concept spawned by the imagination of amateur bands and producers to gain artistic credibility: the filmless film score, the soundtrack without a movie. It pales in contrast only to the wretched world of rock opera. It seems that the pitch is to create an album that places its cards on cinematic clichés of moods and atmospheres instead of, say, actual songs.
Not one to release albums on his own, producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton’s latest collaboration is a tribute to Spaghetti Westerns created over the course of five years with Italian composer Daniele Luppi. Bits and pieces of Western-inspired sounds have appeared in Burton’s work before—most notably Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” —so it’s no big surprise that he eventually assembled them into an entire album. Fortunately, Burton also lives up to the expectation he’s set for quality.
Rome, a long-gestating collaboration between producer Brian Joseph Burton (aka Danger Mouse) and Italian composer Daniele Luppi, pays tribute to Italian cinema’s spaghetti Western era with the subtlety of a revolver to the forehead. Lovingly detailed, atmospheric, and oozing the Technicolor glow of a smoke-stained '70s movie screen, Rome is awfully hard not to cheer for, even when it’s stuck on autopilot, as rarely do pet projects feel this alive and sumptuous. Burton and Luppi were wise to bring on Jack White and Norah Jones to flesh things out, as their vocal contributions provide a much-needed break from the immaculate yet familiar melodies.
The "soundtrack without a movie" album, an attempt to recreate the evocative sweep of a film score away from the screen, has a long and mostly ignoble history. The concept was flogged so hard in the 1990s, usually by dance producers desperate to break out of the club scene, that it was almost left for dead. It didn't help that most of these records were limp pastiches of old-school Hollywood orchestration that paled next to 99% of either actual film scores or real-deal pop albums.
For an artist who aspires to be 'an auteur', taking Woody Allen as his inspiration, it's strange how little of the music released by Danger Mouse, has actually been released under that nom de plume. Since the 2004 issuing of The Grey Album the Dark Night of the Soul collaboration with Sparklehorse and David Lynch is the only one of Brian Burton's many projects to bear his best known stage name. Perhaps, this explains Burton's faith in own authorial potency, the idea that no matter how many disparate projects he's involved in the marks of his vision or style will always be palpable in the finished product.
Some of Italy’s most enduring musical figures have found overseas audiences by doing work for the silver screen. Ennio Morricone started out arranging jazz and pop songs before composing iconic scores for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, while Giorgio Moroder followed his classic work with Donna Summer by winning Academy Awards for the soundtracks to Midnight Express and Top Gun. Considerably further from the mainstream, the Italian rock group Goblin developed a global cult following by appending their creepy, atmospheric prog to films like Dario Argento’s Suspiria and George A.
In the further adventures of Brian Burton, the erstwhile Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley producer teams up with Italian composer Daniele Luppi. The setting is the studio once used by Ennio Morricone, carved out of an ancient catacomb in the titular city, where they corral several veteran musicians from films such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. Stepping through the saloon doors to complete the picture are two vocalists: Norah Jones and the dead-eyed Jack White.
What’s most shocking about this long-gestating collaboration between the increasingly polymath-tastic Danger Mouse and Italian composer Daniele Luppi is how un-cinematic it is. To be sure, Rome is designed to be taken in like it’s some sort of Cinemascope of Sound — hell, the album took longer to make than most of the classic Italian films of the ‘60s from which it draws inspiration — but the end result is much smaller, more intimate, and far less gregarious than the Cinecittà movies or spaghetti westerns of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Although Danger Mouse and Luppi go right to the source for Rome’s sonic bona fides by utilizing some of the same studio musicians, singers, and even equipment that giants like Morricone did, those tools still don’t keep the album from sounding more like bedroom-based baroque pop than the swinging grandiosity of the era they’re trying to emulate.
Rome, the new collaboration between the American producer Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, and the Italian composer Daniele Luppi, is a soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist. The album was inspired by Italian film scores of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly the work of Ennio Morricone, best known for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West.
Whilst it’s easy to feel suspicious that Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton’s ubiquity can too readily be mistaken for an instant stamp of quality, credibility and hipness, it’s hard not to argue that there is something special about his role as a roving producer, arranger and collaborator. Certainly, his studio support to Beck yielded an absolute gem in the shape of 2008’s still marvellous Modern Guilt and his work with The Shins’ James Mercer (as The Broken Bells) freshened-up the world of indie-pop without insulting it. Although his Dark Night Of The Soul conjoining with the late-Mark Linkous (AKA Sparklehorse) suffered from a top-heavy selection of guests, it still broke down a few doors between genres, scenes and artistic egos.
Or, the collaboration otherwise known as Spaghetti Western Soundtracks Updated. Adam Kennedy 2011 Never one to stand stylistically still for more than the length of a studio session, the only real thread tying Brian 'Danger Mouse' Burton's career together is his unending striving to reach the outer limits of contemporary pop. Offering the world game-changing bootleg hip hop, the best Gorillaz album yet and effortless hitmakers Gnarls Barkley weren't his only outlets, though.