Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, is certainly no stranger to treating music as a self-contained environment, a place that doesn’t exist but which sends the listener to another realm for a while to escape. His new album Rome is as Ennio Morricone might have dreamed it; an expanse of marble vistas with cowboys shooting around fountains and coliseums. With the music co-directed by composer Daniele Luppi, the arrangements throughout are spot on Morricone tributes, from the rousing strings and voices of his work with Sergio Leone to the clinking xylophone that made The Untouchables bearable, the supporting orchestration adds gallons of sumptuous depth to Burton’s ever-loving retro guitar twangs and organ pushes.
A supporting vocal cast deliver with surprisingly rousing results as well. Maybe less surprisingly Jack White scratches his voice with aplomb to the tone of the outsider. Two Versus One sets him firmly as the impending sense of doom pushing through the bar doors as he states “I keep my enemies closer than my mirror ever gets to me”. Throughout his career White seems to have constantly regarded himself as the loner, whether it’s producing Loretta Lynn, solo-wiggling with Brendon Benson or putting out garage oddities, White’s post-White Stripes moustache has never quite seemed right. In the context of a dusty Rome where the dust can scratch his throat and settle on his lapels, White has a truly fitting wardrobe, moustache and all.
Norah Jones plays lead female in Rome and her vocals float dreamily with an undertone of tragedy. Black sits somewhere between a Broadcast song, a Morcheeba 6am nap and a resigned sigh against the baddies. The intimate huskiness cocooned within the vast, surging orchestration sees her voice used in a new, exciting way. Still immediately recognisable, it’s fun to hear it tarred and feathered, as opposed to slipping on an LBD.
Whilst all these cameos are fair and well and the songs competent vignettes, it’s the instrumentals and the arrangements that should receive the bulk of the acclaim. Homages they undoubtedly are, but they are beautiful, moving and majestic. At first Rome may sound a touch unchanging, but with repeated listens it opens its ideas. Its cast step lovingly into shot and aren’t afraid to recede into the darkness just as quickly, allowing strings to dance with Parisian bass lines as in the smouldering Her Hollow Ways. Burton’s Rome is a fascinating re-envisioning of romance and danger. It has all the components of a classic and makes for the perfect soundtrack to inject something wonderful into a dull day. Richly rewarding.