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posted Aug 5, 2011, 8:26 PM by Vu Nguyen


Tuesday, 02 August 2011

Danger Mouse's Rome

I’ve been listening to Danger Mouse’s latest album and I really like it.  Maybe it’s because I’m partial to the Spaghetti Westerns and Rome is a nostalgic nod to the music that sprung from those movies like black oil from a high plains desert. 

If you are unfamiliar with the Spaghetti Western’s of the 60’s and 70’s, then let me introduce you to Ennio Morricone.

When Italian director, Sergio Leone, wanted to pay homage to the American Western movies he saw as a youth, he decided to put his own European spin on the genre.  Since he had little money starting out, he told his young composer, Morricone, that they would be unable to afford a full orchestra.  Morricone shrugged like a person new to the business and replaced a lush musical score replete with violins and cellos with gunshots, whips, whistles, voices (Hee-Yah!) and a jagged electric guitar.

Fist Full of Dollars was a soundtrack few had ever heard.  For beside the eclectic instruments, there was a haunting, discordant, spatial and gritty sound, much like the action that was portrayed on the silver screen.  And at its heart was an operatic, over-the-top, feel that only a true Italian could provide. 

That was 1964 and why does it provide any sway on today’s musical scene?  More importantly, why does a musical entrepreneur like Danger Mouse devote a whole album to the genre?  To answer the question you have to know a little more about the musician.

Danger Mouse, a/k/a Brian Burton, maybe one of the more influential musicians you really don’t know.  The reason is his philosophy.  He doesn’t much care for the limelight.  He is not so much up-front and center as behind the scenes. 

“That’s what I decided to with the music,” Danger Mouse told the New York Times.  “I want to create a director’s role within the music…”

Already Danger Mouse has built an impressive resume.  He is the silent partner to Cee-Lo Green in Gnarls Barkley.  He has already produced albums for Gorillaz and Beck.  He is currently working with U2 on their next album.  There are so many irons in his musical fire, he had no problem adding one more.

While going through Italian composer Daniel Luppi’s record collection, Danger Mouse noticed that they both had an affinity for the music of the Spaghetti Westerns.  From there he suggested collaborating.  Little did he know their little project would take five years to complete. 

Five years?  Why so long?  Maybe it was because Danger Mouse and Luppi tried to use the musicians and even the instruments from the original studio recordings that gave birth to the musical genre.  Maybe it was because they were in the warm, inviting climate of the Mediterranean where everything is much more calm and relaxed and completely unlike the hustle and cold of Danger Mouse’s hometown of Philadelphia.  “Domani! Domani!” isn’t so much a phrase as it is an Italian lifestyle.  For anything can be put off until tomorrow.  Or as Luppi explained to The Guardian:

“The thing with Rome – and I’m Italian, so I can say this – things get done, but there is no real way to plan ahead.  We booked the flight, the studio, but you call the musicians and say, are you free next month? And the response is, ‘Well, give me a call three days before.’”

To counter non-committal Italian musicians in their 70’s, Luppi and Danger Mouse hired two singers who have no problem cranking out music on their own, Norah Jones and Jack White.

Rome's Characters

For two voices you can do no better.  Jones and White provide an interesting compliment as seductive style contrasts against piqued, wailing howls.

My favorite track is “Two Against One,” which references a standard plot device in most Spaghetti Western’s – The Mexican Standoff.  The American’s had their High Noon gun battles where the quickest draw won.  Leone decided to make things interesting in The Good the Bad and the Ugly by adding a third gunslinger.   

High tension, shifting alliances, who do you shoot first?  “Two Against One” adds its own twist in a black-hearted ode of entangled love:

I get the feeling that it’s two against one

I’m already fighting me, so what’s another one

The mirror is a trigger and your mouth’s a gun

Lucky for me I’m not the only one