Shrouded figures approach as dusk settles across the dusty landscape. A palpable sense of melancholy and mystery permeates the air as the figures draw nearer and come into focus. It may not sound like the usual beginning of an album review, but one must think in these visual and impressionistic terms to settle into what is before them. This is but a sample of the vivid images the mind conjures when listening to Rome, the new album from producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells, Gorillaz) and Italian film composer Daniele Luppi.
Much digital ink has been spilled discussing the origins of this album. Both men came together over the mutual appreciation of Italian film scores of the 60s and 70s. The gestation period of 5 years, the use of analogue equipment whenever possible, sometimes even trading expensive bottles of wine for the use of just the right instruments and speakers, or even calling in some of the original session musicians that worked on films like Once Upon A Time In The West and others–all of this is part of the mythos surrounding the creation of this album. The inclusion of iconic pop musicians Norah Jones and Jack White raised eyebrows and made people even more excited when juxtaposed with the concept. All of the loving care and craftsmanship that was put into this record is wonderful to hear, but the real question is this: does it live up to the almost mythic hype? Depending on what the listener came looking for, absolutely.
The album kicks off with an appropriately titled “Theme of Rome” instrumental with ethereal female vocals that make for the perfect way of setting the stage for this production and leads beautifully into the first guest contribution from Jack White, singing the haunting “The Rose With The Broken Neck.” His voice is unmistakable and unique, which some have faulted him for on this release, claiming it doesn’t fit with the “vibe.” However, it could be argued without this clash of styles the album would be readily written off as fanboy pastiche and nothing more. His vocals vitalize the songs and bring this project into the 21st Century adding a new perspective to canonical sounds. Think of it like Dennis Hopper in a Wim Wenders film, if that makes sense. “Two Against One” has an undeniably hummable hook and the way White’s vocals are beautifully layered in “The World” is impressive; it offers a fresh look at his vocal capabilities. It could also be argued that the songs he contributes to are the strongest of the bunch and have the most potential for “commercial viability.” That aside, Jack White addicts in need of a fix during this post-White Stripes dry spell will be richly rewarded for checking out this endeavor.
Not to say Norah Jones is a slouch by any means. Her vocals are calming and sultry here, bringing out her best qualities. It seems that when someone else is steering, Jones can be shaken from the lullaby jazz malaise that has given rise to the snarky nickname “Snorah Jones.”For proof that she can go above and beyond that just check out her work on Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom project in the song “Sucker” where he gets her to talk dirty and sing all sorts of things extremely out of character. So she has it in her and Danger Mouse has succeeded with tracks like the regret-filled “Season’s Trees” and depressive “Black.” Both songs are downbeat to be sure, but the combination of lyrical topics, her voice, and the arrangements complement each other in ways that give the songs a heft that her solo material never seems to manage. The chemistry between her vocals and this instrumentation borders on fantastic and blends in a way that makes the listener feel Jones could have provided vocals for a Morricone score or two if she had been born a few decades earlier. That’s a complement to say the least.
But these vocal tracks don’t even make up the majority of the track list on this release. There are plenty of interludes, even ones that tease musical phrases from full tracks such as “The World (Interlude)” a few tracks before “The World” itself. In some instances of “interlude” inclusion in pop music can seem cliché or lazy, but here in the cinematic scope of this album it seems appropriate and only cements the cohesiveness of the album. Instrumentals like “Roman Blue,” “The Gambling Priest,” “Morning Fog” and “The Matador Has Fallen” stand on their own as unique compositions that are capable of conjuring brilliant imagery when the accompanying song titles are kept in the mind. Several times upon first listen it’s hard not to stop what you’re doing and focus on the gorgeousness of these songs. Danger Mouse has always excelled at composing intricate pieces that somehow retain an organic vitality that is missing in the Pro-Tools-heavy music of today, and it seems Daniele Luppi has only strengthened that.
Again, what you get out of this album all depends on what you came expecting. If the listener came wanting another full-on pop record from Danger Mouse and company, then they might be left disappointed by the sheer number of instrumentals which might seem tedious to ears that impatiently await the next track containing vocals. If viewed instead as more like a cinematic score where instrumentals are the rule and vocals are reserved for only those most poignant moments, then you are in for a treat. Prepare yourself for one of the most gorgeously sweeping pop records of 2011.
Written by Jarad MatulaDanger Mouse & Daniele Luppi – Rome (2011)feat. Norah Jones και Jack White (White Strippes) by muzzninu