Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi Break Boundaries with Rome – A Full Album Review

10 May

Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi first started the Rome project five years ago with a musical dream. Let’s create an ode to the soundtrack of spaghetti westerns, a la “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” It was an ambitious goal, but one that fit comfortably into the parameters of both Luppi, an Italian composer, and Danger Mouse, a modern music producer and drummer. Add in the vocals talents of Jack White and Norah Jones and you get a melodic combination that effortlessly mixes classical music with an eclectic taste of electronic/folk/rock. The resulting album will be released in a week, but it currently is streaming on Rolling Stone’s website (http://www1.rollingstone.com/hearitnow/player/dangermouse-rome.html) and I definitely suggest taking a peak at this sneak preview.

Each track on the album deserves special attention because of the compelling intricacies and complexities they provide, so my track-by-track review follows all 15 songs, as the clear concept album creates a tale of intriguing sound. Yes, spaghetti western is considered to be a derogatory term, but this album destroys the hackneyed movie connection, and instead explores the creative music that lined its sun-splattered back drops. Rome crushes pop constructions and demonstrates modern respect for classical music. It is a work of sheer creativity, a western waltz, and certainly the best album of the year thus far.

“Theme of Rome”

The first track is an instrumental with ties to Pink Floyd’s work on “Welcome to the Machine,” with the single-struck chords and “The Great Gig in the Sky,” with the vocal chant. It sounds like a combination of these two mixed with the subtle element of a western. This introduction presents the album’s artsy and ambitious attempt well, almost creating a sun rise image, darkness slowly giving way to light.

“The Rose with a Broken Neck”

The beginning screams Danger Mouse, electronic, studio sounds that embrace listeners. Jack White stars as the male vocal part. The music is a little overpowering, somewhat incongruous with the vocals. It almost sounds like a unorganized bad dream, premised by a frightening lullaby provided by the backing keys. It works, though. There is beauty to its organization. The melody is infectious. As Okocim describes it, “it sounds like a video game, or rather a waltz.” And this is so true. It is a waltz in time signature and feel

And oh the classic western connection of the motif of “lonely” and repeating verse:

Lonely I see
Lonely I need
Lonely I feel
And lonely I bleed
Lonely I trust
And lonely I must
Be the rose with the broken neck

Morning Fog”

 The keys dominate the early album. This interlude is dreamy, because of the keys, and its 40 seconds drift the listener into the following song.

 “Season’s Trees”

 Here comes more of a traditional folk song with strings and Norah Jones’ sultry voice, sensual, inviting and candid. It moves well. I do love her voice. It is folk/pop and pretty conventional. The strings layer nicely, but are almost unnecessary. The song does not fit into the album’s key-heavy western pattern well. It is a blip of blasé and despite the ending doesn’t do it for me.

Her Hollow Ways (Interlude)”

And then we are back to the beautiful combination of Luppi and Danger Mouse. This is a perfect example of their flawless combination, an example of how classical can mix seamlessly with modern musical conventions (electronic). The composer meets the independent production that is Danger Mouse. A welcomed interlude. And the choir just moves the album, like a movie.

Roman Blue”

Basic chords. The song is in three, moving away from the normal pop convention of the 4/4 beat. It then immediately takes on this lull. This is my favorite instrumental. It is an instrumental masterpiece. The strings work is beautiful. It is powerful. But, one can still hear the Danger Mouse influence with the bass and small, lightly stroked keys. The wailing voice is such a Floyd thing, but its painful connotation ends the song on this awe-striking somber note. It sings western.

Two Against One”

This song was released a while ago and is one of Jack White’s tracks. The acoustic guitar is rapid paced. White’s voice is smooth and is placed over a plucking guitar in a minor key. Then, a bridge collapses into this surf-like electric guitar solo that smells like burning sand. The end features a harpsichord that rings twice, just enough to end the song a freaky note.

“The Gambling Priest”

 Surf guitar mixed with moaning voices and unconventional percussion. What the heck? This is like surf-psychedelia. The drum beat is exceptional. This is like Brian Wilson meets gothic folk meets Danger Mouse in a comfortable studio. The movie continues. This would be the part prefacing a big fight. Something evil is happening underneath the song and I want to know what it is.

The World (Interlude)”

 A grand piece. The vocals are heavenly, placed skillfully over a tiny keyboard riff.

“Black”

Track 10 came quickly. We begin with Danger Mouse’s most amazing riff since “The High Road” with Broken Bells. The keys are perfect. It sets this magical scene placed beautifully over an acoustic rhythm. This one fits much better into the movie that is Rome. The song works exceptionally well. Norah Jones’ voice is anagogical and smoky. It is more theatrical than “Two Against One,” but the lyric smothers the quick acoustic rhythm in a similar manner. I also am such a sucker for the classical portion with silhouette strings. The song moves like a post-death scene and it takes the title of best song on the album.

The Matador Has Fallen”

A slight change of pace. This is more uplifting. It is a worthy follow us to “Black,” a similar song.

Morning Fog”

The drumming on this album should be recognized. The album moves at an unpredictable pace, but the drums never falter. They are always crisp and acute to sound. Morning fog, suitably with its name, is dreary. The electronic keys are somewhat plangent, but their strength is welcome. The instrumental is carried by the chorus, that sings with strength, and the last reverberating chord is a melodic vibration.

Problem Queen”

 Welcome back Norah Jones. The keys lift and drop like a roller coaster. They are the backing for the song that cooks with Jones’ voice.

 “Her Hollow Ways”

The Her Hollow Ways interlude was the wondrous combination of both Danger Mouse and Luppi. The actual song takes on a lot of its partners qualities. The classical portion is my favorite part of the song, obviously taking most of the interludes melodic structure. The actual song is an expansion of the interlude, a triumphant, but sobering song where the hero reflects. Imagine yourself staring out at a desert expanse, blustery orange sand and a fading amber setting sun.

 “The World”

The World follows up from its own interlude. This sounds more western, and the combination of voices are powerful, sounding off this credits rolling finale of a perfect spaghetti western film. The end of the song presents the perfect climax and the album ends with keys fading out in the abyss.

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