Friday, July 8, 2011

The Antihero in 15 Tracks. A Review of Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi's Rome

By Tony Nunes, Dreaming Genius co-editor

We’ve all seen them. We’ve all reveled in the staunch demeanor of their Western antiheros. We’ve all envisioned ourselves digging our own boots into that dry and arid Badlands terrain with its cacti and Joshua tree laced red clays and purgatorial geologic features. And most importantly, we’ve all hummed those sacred themes of choral twang and epic strums that led up to the gunfights, badass looks, and long, dueling walks.

These were the Spaghetti Westerns, the 1960’s answer to the films of Japanese legend Akira Kurosawa, themselves answered by Star Wars and the films of Quentin Tarantino years later.  One director is synonymous with the Spaghetti Western, Sergio Leone, and one composer is synonymous with the musical styling’s of these films, Ennio Morricone, the legendary conductor whose score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly stands to this day as the best of the genre.  No matter how deep and how wide the cycle of homage goes, nothing could compare or live up to the masterful soundtracks of these Italian cowboy epics.  Few dared to try, and even Tarantino himself recycled the score’s of the 60’s in his own films rather than creating them anew.

Now, with Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi’s collaboration on the concept album Rome, homage has given new identity to the thrilling sounds of late 60’s Italian Cinema.  I dislike the term concept album, as it carries with it a certain air of kitsch, but there really is no title to better describe the intentions of Rome.

In regards to homage, the opening track, aptly titled the ‘Theme of Rome’ is the most successful of the album.  With its building drum cadence and blossomed guitar strums, Danger Mouse and Luppi were obviously channeling Morricone and his longtime collaborator Alessandro Alessandroni, whose twangy guitar riffs and distinct whistle lifted The Good the Bad and the Ugly soundtrack to cult status.

There’s no argument against Luppi and Danger Mouse’s commitment to the album.  The duo even reunited Cantori Moderni, the Italian choir Morricone and Alessandroni assembled for their collaborations in the 60’s.  On the very Italo-sixties reminiscent ‘The Gambling Priest,‘ deep funk bass and chanting chorals add resonance to the wah-wah plucks of an ominous guitar solo.  On the mournful ‘Morning Fog’ the choir adds their most effective contribution by moaning a low and serious sermon, a turning point in the story of Rome, a narrative we are to create with our own imaginations and the vague conception of the Spaghetti Western construct.

The choir adds a solid level of backing atmosphere to many of the songs, but there are still sections of the album that don’t cohesively mesh with others.  1960’s flair is apparent, then lacking on tracks like the overly orchestral ’Roman Blue,’ trading the 60’s aesthetic for its more classically modern arrangement.  

‘Two Against One’ and ‘The Rose With A Broken Neck’ are the albums standout tracks.  It’s no coincidence that both songs feature White Stripes frontman Jack White on vocals.  White’s tangled croon provides a vocal apprehension to lyrics like “the mirror is a trigger and your mouth is a gun,“ providing White himself with the identity of the albums weary antihero.  With White the reluctant hero, the heroine of Rome is Norah Jones, lending her smooth and  conversational vocals to ’Season’s Trees’ and ’Black.’ 

With the smooth control of Jones’ voice juxtaposed to the deconstructed non-control of White’s, the rough hero / siren heroine scenario endures on Rome.  Like the Spaghetti Western’s themselves, the music is full of contradictions.  The pairing of choral and orchestral arrangements with the acoustic rawness of the guitars envelop all of Rome, like the classic soundtracks of Morricone, with an all-consuming paradox between control and improvisation.

While they don’t quite emulate the greatness of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly‘s ‘The Ecstasy of Gold,’ the standout (in my opinion) track of Ennio Morricone’s catalog, Danger Mouse and Luppi do come close to creating a complete western opera all their own.

Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi - Two Against One - starring Jack White 

The Ecstasy of Gold by Ennio Morricone


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