Sunday, June 12, 2011
NEW DANGER MOUSE PROJECT :: ROME
DON'T SLEEP ON THIS LP!!!
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.
All that bad product doesn't make the movie-less soundtrack a bad idea, of course. It's just that few of these projects have had the talent pool, or the commitment, to pull off a Rome. You can hear composer Daniele Luppi's love and respect for the brooding romanticism, fragile delicacy, and almost psychedelic spaceiness of classic Italian soundtracks in just about every note. In his partner Danger Mouse, he's found not only a similarly smitten collaborator, but a producer who's made a career out of accurately capturing the atmosphere of old records without (usually) coming off sterile. And they've got the moody vibe of those 60s soundtracks down on Rome, as much due to the vintage recording touches as to the Italian movie industry O.G.'s the duo drafted in to lend their hard-earned feel for this music.
But Rome isn't just about faithfully recreating a much-loved period in film history. It'd be a much more boring, if beautifully produced, record if it were. In addition to his work as a composer for film, Luppi's lent his talents as arranger and player to various pop acts, and Danger Mouse has spent much of his career using his crate-digger's ear to craft retro-minded albums that still work for a modern rock audience. Rome's real coup is that, despite its concept hook, you don't have to listen to it as if it were a potential film score. What the duo's made is a beguiling and true hybrid, halfway between pop album and soundtrack-minus-the-movie. If you've got no familiarity with the music Rome pays homage to, you can take comfort that much of it sounds, coincidentally, very similar to the gentle-but-dark 60s psych-pop Danger Mouse makes with Broken Bells, sans a singer. And while it's true that the bulk of the album is instrumental, more concerned with mood than hooks, it's sequenced masterfully, including a handful of well-placed (if purposefully subdued) songs.
Luppi and Danger Mouse cannily snagged two talented but obviously very different voices in Jack White and Norah Jones. White's natural eeriness and Jones' diffident eroticism certainly fit a sound built around mystical melodrama and chilly Euro heartbreak, but their voices are such complimentary opposites that they turn out to be what gives Rome much of its distinctness, keep it from being just another record collector (or film collector) exercise in getting everything period-perfect. And true to the album's slippery not-quite-an-album/not-quite-a-score form, their contributions can either work as the big showcase moments for pop fans, or just as part of the soundtrack-like flow. And whether or not the album succeeds for you as a score to your own invisible flick, inducing images of fog-swept villas and sigaretta-chomping villains in fedoras as the organs swell and the guitars pluck mournfully away, it's purely gorgeous.