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TBTS Reviews: Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi, Rome

May 14, 2011

On paper, Rome has a lot going for it. Danger Mouse has name recognition, modern cred, and a rather remarkable resume in terms of genre-hopping if nothing else. Daniele Luppi has a cinematic sweep in his own compositions and the connections to a dozen or more of the now-octogenarian musicians who played on the classic Morricone soundtracks decades ago. Hired gun singers Jack White and Norah Jones both have great, instantly recognizable voices that are, perhaps surprisingly, well suited for Rome’s urbane, string-laden, quietly grandiose pop music.

So I expected to find instant and visceral pleasure in Rome. But in several listens to the NPR stream of the album (to be released on Tuesday May 17), I’ve found instead a real slow-grower of a record that has forced me to recalibrate my expectations. I wanted 35 minutes of ache and swoon, akin to what I’d feel from hearing the operatic female lilt from Once Upon a Time in the West on an album-length loop.

Yep, I’ll admit it—I wanted a straight-up Morricone tribute. But the majority of Rome is more Mancini than Morricone. As in Henry Mancini, as in “Moon River,” as in smoothed edges, soothing sounds, and hazy, martini-soaked montages. In other words, many parts of Rome seem better suited to soundtracking Audrey Hepburn kicking up her heels in Manhattan than evoking the Man with No Name kicking up dust in the open prairie.

But, taking a step back from sounding too critical, I’ve found it very easy to enjoy Rome on these new terms. After all, Henry Mancini was a badass in his own way (Peter Gunn, anyone?).  I just hope the album title and the presence of the Italian musicians who worked with Morricone don’t raise expectations that Rome will sound like the old master’s great lost film score. In that sense, appreciating what Rome is requires getting past what it isn’t. Rome isn’t what I expected it to be, but it is still dramatic, and lovely, and evocative. With repeated listens, I’m finding it easier and easier to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Go here for the NPR stream of Rome until its May 17 street date. Below is the album’s EMI Records trailer.

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