Never one to stand stylistically still for more than the length of a studio session, the only real thread tying Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton’s career together is his unending striving to reach the outer limits of contemporary pop. Offering the world game-changing bootleg hip hop, the best Gorillaz album yet and effortless hitmakers Gnarls Barkley weren’t his only outlets, though. The Los Angeles super-producer was concurrently hard at work with this five-year labour of love, alongside Italian composer Daniele Luppi, Burton’s arranger on several past projects.
Entitled Rome after the album’s city of inception, it could equally be named Spaghetti Western Soundtracks Updated, such is the influence of those evocative sounds. Neither of the duo have attempted to hide such links, either: not only did they decamp to studios formerly used by Ennio Morricone, but Luppi pulled off something of a coup in reuniting the original players from Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Far from merely retreading the past, mercifully, the fiercely analogue results take on a sophisticated dimension of their own.
Two recurring guest vocalists characterise Rome, with yin and yang effect. Whatever you make of the man, Jack White has already proved himself a versatile performer way beyond The White Stripes’ four-legged blues shuffle. And he adds another string to that particular bow with several earnestly fragile lead vocals never better than on the delicate The Rose With the Broken Neck.
MOR popstress Norah Jones is a less-expected inclusion, despite previously marking her card as a part-time left-leaner by lending moderately sultry tones to work by Mike Patton. There is no such unlikely experimentalist form here, sadly. Where White adds a ghostly otherworldliness perfectly suiting the atmosphere, Jones’s contributions are relatively nondescript. This is particularly clear on Black, the irony not lost that the track is the polar opposite of her male co-lead in every regard. Take a finger to your fast-forward button, however, and without Jones’ handful of mediocre performances, Rome breezes past with all the tinkling, indefinable intent of a lost Michel Gondry film score.