The downside to choosing such a specific inspiration for an entire album is that Rome eventually hits a wall where its success becomes its flaw.
Not one to release albums on his own, producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton’s latest collaboration is a tribute to Spaghetti Westerns created over the course of five years with Italian composer Daniele Luppi. Bits and pieces of Western-inspired sounds have appeared in Burton’s work before—most notably Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” —so it’s no big surprise that he eventually assembled them into an entire album. Fortunately, Burton also lives up to the expectation he’s set for quality.
Rome stays fully on-message from beginning to end, accurately mimicking the style, sound and recording techniques of the film scores from classic Westerns. Many of the tracks are instrumentals, but Jack White adds his Bluegrass-inspired vocals to a handful of songs. He first pops up on “The Rose With the Broken Neck,” somewhat taking on the persona of the prototypical “depressed badass” cowboy to stay with the theme.
The vocal tracks help break things up, but that’s not to say that the instrumentals aren’t worthwhile. “The Matador Has Fallen,” continues to move through the entire song, going beyond a “beat” into an actual composition. It is nice that Norah Jones joins in a few times as well, however, refreshing the landscape on “Season’s Trees” or “Black.” The project clearly belongs to Burton and Luppi, but having Jones and White along helps cover the necessary bases that the producers just can’t.
The downside to choosing such a specific inspiration for an entire album is that Rome eventually hits a wall where its success becomes its flaw. Burton and Luppi do such a thorough job recreating other composers’ sounds that they end up getting buried under their own work. As much credit as the pair deserve for creating a modern approximation of Ennio Morricone, Rome is more likely to lead to watching one of Sergio Leone’s classics than replaying the album itself.
There’s nothing wrong with Rome—it’s quite good in fact. Nevertheless, it’s still ultimately a faithful reinterpretation of music that isn’t necessarily designed to exist on its own. It certainly invokes the general feeling of a classic Western, but without anything specific to latch onto, it struggles to surpass “hey, remember how cool this stuff was?” It definitely was cool but it also had context, so perhaps all Rome needs is an actual film attached so it can fully live up to its promises.