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May 8, 2011

Georgia On My iPod

R.E.M and Danger Mouse’s latest releases push music’s boundaries

<p>From left to right: Daniele Luppi, Norah Jones, Danger Mouse and Jack White collaborate on the new album Rome</p>

From left to right: Daniele Luppi, Norah Jones, Danger Mouse and Jack White collaborate on the new album Rome

By Nancy Staab

R.E.M. reinvents the music video with Collapse Into Now, while Danger Mouse goes Italian with his tribute album to spaghetti Westerns—and a little help from Jack White and Norah Jones.

R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipes has always been arty. To wit: He is an art school drop out from University of Georgia; his “Losing My Religion” video re-created the dark canvases of Renaissance painter Caravaggio, and most recently, Stipe’s gleaming Foxes sculpture was added to the piazza of The Sovereign building here in Atlanta. For REM’s most recent album, Collapse Into Now, released this March, Stipes not only called on arty friends to sing backup on his album (Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder, Peaches, etc), but he enlisted arty pals such as conceptual artist Sam Taylor-Wood, actor James Franco, and 84-year-old documentarian Albert Maysles to create original art videos for each of the 12 songs on the album.  

As Rolling Stone opines: “Collapse Into Now touches on all their [R.E.M.’s] favorite tricks; punk raves, stately ballads, piano, accordion and the most mandolin they’ve put in one place since ‘Losing My Religion.’”

True, the songs stand on their own, particularly the exuberant “Uberlin” and more pensive “Oh My Heart” (a response to Hurricane Katrina) and “Walk It Back,” but it’s fun to view the art videos both as independent creations and as a 21st-century reinvention of the music video. Our fave, hand’s-down, is Taylor-Wood’s “Uberlin,” featuring boy-toy actor Aaron Johnson as a spirited street dancer in a fluid one-take video that captures him shadow boxing with a Bansky-like street mural, swinging around lampposts a la Singing in the Rain and dodging in an out of doorways.

See the Uberlin video here:

Meanwhile, Cee-Lo Greene’s erstwhile Gnarls Barkley bandmate Danger Mouse is out to prove, in the wake of smash hit “F You,” that Greene is not the only attention-grabber in the duo. Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) has gone surprisingly cerebral and old-school for his latest foray, Rome, out this May, and a collaboration between himself and Italian composer Daniele Luppi. The cinema-inspired album attempts to re-create those haunting but lush Spaghetti Western soundtracks from the ’60s by recruiting many of the original musicians for this 21st-century version. Recorded in the city of Rome, the album begs for an accompanying Clint Eastwood-acted or perhaps directed flick. But it is not altogether nostalgic-- guest vocals by Jack White (of The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather) as well as sultry chanteuse Norah Jones, lend the endeavor a modern patina. White’s moody song “Two Against One” positively rocks out.

Listen to "Two Against One" here:

Also: check out the cool black-and-white trailer film for the Rome album project here:

Up Next: In addition to producing work with U2, Burton is collaborating with Greene on a future Gnarls Barkley CD.