When in Rome…
The city of Rome inspires a wealth of images—the weathered arches of the Coliseum, people strolling down cobblestone streets with pastel-colored gelato and designer heels, the ruins of the Forum standing silent and aloof against the horizon. And now Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, has teamed up with Italian composer/arranger Daniele Luppi to present us with his own homage to the Eternal City. Rome is a sweeping, cinematic undertaking of an album five years in the making, an assemblage of darkly melodic psych-pop and orchestral flourishes that recall the soundtracks of ’60s Italian films and spaghetti westerns.
Danger Mouse employs vintage recording techniques on Rome, so you can easily hear the static of the analog recording on the opener “Theme of Rome,” giving it just the right vibe and an expansive sense of space, as the spare percussion and strummed guitar chords echo into the silence, fading into the strings that swell up, ominous and foreboding. But he didn’t just use nostalgic technology—Rome was recorded in the former studio of the great Ennio Morricone, and Danger Mouse reunites the Cantori Moderni and Edda Dell’Orso, who provided the vocals in the classic tunes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
And if those collaborations weren’t enough, he recruited the vocal talents of Norah Jones and Jack White, who also penned lyrics to several tracks. White’s signature slick, wavering tenor meshes perfectly with bluesy, funk guitars on the dark, shuffling ballad “The Rose with a Broken Neck” and the showdown “Two Against One.” Jones is smooth and cool on “Season’s Trees” and the hooky single “Black,” but only her performance on “Problem Queen” stands up to White’s evocative yowling.
Most of Rome, however, is instrumental and studded with brief, beautiful interludes, much like a film score. “Morning Fog (interlude)” and its full version feature light, tinkling keys reminiscent of a music box, gentle and soft, like something you might expect to hear in one of the city’s basilicas. On “Her Hollow Ways” melodies from throughout the album return, revisited in string and guitar harmonies, ultimately reminding you that this is, really, a score without a movie. But even the instrumentals aren’t just orchestral pieces fit for the symphony—“Roman Blue” features bluesy bass, ambling percussion, and sweeping strings in a quirky mix of typical Danger Mouse (if there is such a thing) and Luppi’s cinematic soundscapes. “The Gambling Priest,” likewise, has a western tumbleweed feel, lush with layers of acoustic and electric guitar drenched in reverb, accented by wandering piano melodies.
Rome stands in good company with Danger Mouse’s eccentric, extensive repertoire, and it leaves us, as so many films do, with a cliffhanger. After working on the album for five years, what’s next?