Rolling Stone called the album “a 15-track score to a film that exists only in your head.” And the marketing and packaging of “Rome” – the brainchild of hipster hyphenates Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and Daniele Luppi that references Italian cinema scores of the ’60s and ’70s – certainly suggests as much a cinematic experience as an aural one: the title sounds like a widescreen epic; a “trailer” shot for the record looks like Antonioni filtered through Jim Jarmusch; the co-composers-lyricists-producers are billed as “presenters”; and under the album’s bleeding-heart logo its reads “starring Jack White and Norah Jones,” the recording’s two featured vocalists.
This marriage of movies and music will be further mined when Luppi acts as artist in residence at L.A. Film Fest, where on June 24 he’ll present “Navajo Joe” (1966), a revenge tale starring Burt Reynolds directed by a Sergio other than Leone: Sergio Corbucci, dispelling the notion that spaghetti westerns were the sole turf of Leone and his pancho-wearing Man With No Name, Clint Eastwood. The score is by Ennio Morricone, the primary muse behind “Rome.”
“It’s just a fun movie,” says Luppi, who will present the film and engage in a q&A afterward. “The ending is so odd and weird.
Luppi’s been down this road before; his debut album, “An Italian Story,” acted as another love letter to the Italian film music that inspired him growing up. It was around the time of that recording when he met Burton, another Italian film music enthusiast. They ended up working together on the Gnarls Barkley record “St. Elsewhere,” the Burton-Sparklehorse collaboration “Dark Night of the Soul” and the eponymous “Broken Bells” album.
For maximum verisimilitude, “Rome” was recorded in Rome at the Forum Music Village, co-founded by Morricone, with many of the players used on Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, such as Alessandro Alessandroni and his Cantori Moderni choir, and Edda Dell’Orso, whose operatic soprano is featured on the record’s opening theme. Luppi also mentions such composers as Bruno Nicolai, Riz Ortolani and Piero Piccioni as influences. But despite the twangy guitar and spooky wails, Luppi was careful not to veer into what can be interpreted as heavy-handed cliche.
“Brian (Burton, aka Danger Mouse) and I were kind of intrigued by the more darker aspects of those spaghetti westerns,” explains Luppi, who says they also incorporated “psychedelic” sounds “from the ’70s, more from the Dario Argento ‘giallo’ (Italian thriller) movies.”
White projects both detached mercenary and wounded lover in his vocals – think “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” all rolled up into one, while Jones brings a smoky femme fatale quality to her contributions. The aim was to project a kind of doomed romanticism between the two. “It’s an album about love, I guess,” says Burton in the album’s trailer. “It’s definitely very melancholy.”
Luppi, who contributed tracks to “Nine” and “Under the Tuscan Sun,” exhibits a wide spectrum of styles in his own scores, from the piano-and-strings classicism of “Malos Habitos” to the stripped-down electronica of “Assassination of a High School President,” which sounds like it could have been Radiohead’s lost soundtrack demo.
Going forward, he’s most excited about resurrecting another musical hero from his youth, Franco Battiato, whose ’80s recording “La voce del Padrone” he’d like to remake, with the singer himself. “Its sounds like 1981 Italy,” says Luppi. “It’s just fascinating. I got my hands on a vinyl copy just a couple of months ago and got in touch with Franco and I know he would love to do it.”