May 27, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe
Clint Eastwood recently said he was a fan of Tiny Tempah. What he should have said was “I’m a huge Danger Mouse fan, and his new album Rome has inspired me to make another Spaghetti Western”.
Five years in the making, Rome is a Spaghetti Western Soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. Taking inspiration from Ennio Morricone’s music in films like The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and made a modern day tribute featuring the surviving members of Morricone’s orchestra, the Cantori Moderni.
Danger Mouse, AKA Brian Burton, has never stayed still. From the Beatles/Jay-Z mashup, producing the Gorillaz and Black Keys to being the other half of Gnarls Barkley, he knows how to keep things fresh. The retro leanings that made Gnarls so appealing still apply to their solo efforts. But while Cee Lo has gone for the safe Soul approach while Burton has travelled taken a different route into the sixties, stepping out his comfort zone and making the kind of album no expected and has heard the likes of in a long time.
Rome feels real. Show this to someone who doesn’t know any better and they’ll ask you what film this is from, your parents might even ask which Clint Eastwood film it is. The horns, keys and beautiful guitar work comes at you straight from another time. Composer Daniele Luppi is no stranger to success, having worked with Burton in Gnarls Barkley and scored films (including music for Sex and the City), he does a great job of steering the music. It’s warm, subtle, soothing, yet at the same time moody and sparse.
It would make a great accompaniment to a film. But therein lies the biggest problem with this as an album. Soundtracks need films for context to make sense. The Tron: Legacy soundtrack was great with light-bikes rushing across your screen, but at home it’s a bunch of nice soundscapes that pass by, and the same is true here. Not to say they are dull by any means, the arrangement and orchestrating is serene and the Cantori Moderni prove they still have all the skill and subtly in their playing so iconic in decades past.
Take the tracks Roman Blue and the Jack White fronted Two Against One. Roman is a short and pleasant piece and summons scenes of a desert and a lone rider in the distance, but passes the listener by as background music. While White’s vocals are direct, catchy, and the whole song makes you want to listen and play it over.
Fans of White and Jones will be suitably impressed and happy with their wares on offer. Jones voice has a smoky quality and since she’s nowhere near as prolific as White will lap up her first work in a while. White’s performance takes on a more restrained approach than his recent work, somewhere between the Raconteurs and the slower, quieter White Stripe songs in the vein of The Union Forever.
Danger Mouse has always been the most interesting guys in pop. Him and Daniele Luppi have created one of the most original and different albums that you’ll listen to all year. It’s just a shame there’s not a film alongside to really make sense of it all. Take the hint Clint.