"Black" featuring Norah Jones
Rome, Danger Mouse and Italian composer Daniele Luppi’s lavish and pitch-perfect love letter to Ennio Morricone, is something of a twice-over orphan: an original motion picture soundtrack in need of a Sergio Leone film reel, and a curio in need of an audience. Its cinematic ambitions shine marquee-bright. On the album’s cover, the two composers “present” their work, in true Hollywood fashion, while Jack White and Norah Jones, its dramatis personae, “star” in it. Rome even contains its very own “theme,” by way of its opening track, its coo a blatant aping of the iconic whistle of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Five years of work went into Rome, but for whom exactly? Besides Danger Mouse and Luppi themselves (Rome is very much a labor of love), the obvious answer is a specific subset of cinephiles and their crown prince Quentin Tarantino, whose Kill Bill: Vol. 2 was a sloppy wet kiss to Spaghetti Westerns and Morricone. Fans of Jack and Norah will want to cherry-pick Rome for the artists’ individual cuts. White’s contributions brim with the dexterous turns-of-phrase he best employed on Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump. The acerbic ballads “The Rose with the Broken Neck” and “Two Against One” respectively find Jack a down-and-out junkie and an accomplice in a self-takedown. Norah Jones, breathy as ever, benefits from the lush darkness of the material. Her marvelous “Black,” replete with acoustic-guitar arpeggios and swooning strings, is the album’s most memorable track.
Rome’s instrumental interludes and standalone compositions, for all their fidelity and splendor, often blend into anonymity. Only a few – particularly the swirling “Matador Has Fallen” and the mournful chorale “Morning Fog” – rise to distinction. Its painstaking vistas, which deserve to be more than background music, will be lost on all but the true believers. Rome is the worst kind of tragedy, a glorious waste of time.