What’s most shocking about this long-gestating collaboration between the increasingly polymath-tastic Danger Mouse and Italian composer Daniele Luppi is how un-cinematic it is. To be sure, Rome is designed to be taken in like it’s some sort of Cinemascope of Sound — hell, the album took longer to make than most of the classic Italian films of the ‘60s from which it draws inspiration — but the end result is much smaller, more intimate, and far less gregarious than the Cinecittà movies or spaghetti westerns of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Although Danger Mouse and Luppi go right to the source for Rome’s sonic bona fides by utilizing some of the same studio musicians, singers, and even equipment that giants like Morricone did, those tools still don’t keep the album from sounding more like bedroom-based baroque pop than the swinging grandiosity of the era they’re trying to emulate.
In fact, it’s truly remarkable how much work went into the making of this album — we’ve heard tales of bartering bottles of wine for vintage equipment, recording with analog tape in the famed Ortophonic Studios, calling out of retirement the elder statesmen who played on the soundtracks of films like Once Upon a Time in the West. Yet all of that fetishism is quickly and completely eclipsed by the jarring presence of the distinct voices of Norah Jones and Jack White (each of whom appear on three tracks) and the plodding, midtempo modernity of the songs composed by Luppi and Danger Mouse.
The combination finds none of the elements complementing one another, resulting in an amorphous and unchallenging bit of pleasantry, rather than the ambitious result of, as the marketing materials say, “a half-decade of hard work and unstinting perfectionism.” Actually, I take that back. Rome does sound like the result of five years of Very Serious Effort, except instead of honing a few rough spots, the hubris-driven tinkering ended up chipping away all the soul from what could have been a jaunty and lively homage to some of the best movie music ever made.