Crime and Dissonance
hat I best remember about Ennio Morricone is a simple drumbeat.
It is the war drum that pounds out of the hills whenever Clint Eastwood had a face-off in the badlands. The rhythm is too slow for a battle march and it quickly drops out before, but its power is there—it moves at the pace of hammers piecing together a coffin. That beat struck me much more than the human coyote shrieks that famously led the theme song to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The beat embodies how all music disappears into silence and is replaced by one’s heartbeat when death and triumph are both of equal opportunity. Morricone’s Spaghetti Western anthem and the template it set for Wild West soundtracks since, is a marvel of both camp and drama. Today, such music is a cliché to chuckle at or a reference for movie buff credibility and trash-culture nostalgia (i.e. Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies)—it can even be heard in a TV ad for a pet flea remover. Morricone’s name is now sadly synonymous with kitsch. All of these conditions make Crime and Dissonance more relevant than ever.
Mike Patton of Faith No More/Mr. Bungle/Fantomas fame co-produced this two-disc collection that spans over Morricone’s work after he made his name with Westerns and had left that genre to score obscure Italian movies during the 60s and 70s. Alan Bishop, of ethno-rock surrealists The Sun City Girls, compiled 30 tracks from the likes of horror, suspense, mafia, and period movies. Crime is a refreshing display of the wide breadth of Morricone’s compositional chops: he deftly arranges cool-jazz, funk, Afro-Cuban rumbles, be-bop, electronic noises, musique concrete, and psych-rock. Such versatility is what enabled our man to score more than 500 movies over four decades. Bishop’s selection mainly avoided Morricone’s epic orchestrations in favor of the off-beat and frequently demented. It makes perfect sense that Patton would release the goods on his Ipecac label as Morricone’s schizo genre-jumping and the dark sense of melodrama has obviously left marks on Patton’s work in Mr. Bungle and Fantomas. The latter band’s Delirium Cordia—a soundtrack to a surgery patient’s descent into death and an afterlife could easily be mistaken for some of Morricone’s more unhinged moments. Patton’s longtime mentor and fellow Morricone idolizer John Zorn (who delivered gonzo re-interpretations of Morricone classics on his The Big Gundown album), penned Crime’s liner notes.
In Crime, only the movie titles get credited. No plotlines or profiles of those films are documented—the songs are left to speak for themselves and to have the listeners imagine what scenes that they help narrate. The first disc’s opener, “Giorno Di Notte” is a rather creepy hoot as Morricone throws the listener in the middle of a possible scene where the protagonist or the fallen angel is lost in a haze of LSD at a hippie shindig. A piano and a wah-wah’d guitar try to hold conversation against an Iron Butterfly-like groove until they scatter away as a flying saucer noise hovers above. That said, what follows throughout Crime cannot be mere background music as the tension and peculiarities are too arresting. I cannot fathom what kind of scenes he soundtracked as many of his songs have so many fragments of starkly different genres crammed in. “Ricreazione Divertita” jumps from a cradle-rocking lullaby to choirboys reciting to a peppermint-rock raveup to a sublime string piece that could announce an aristocrat’s appearance at a party and finally back to the singing boys—all within three minutes.
Morricone is at his best in Crime when his music hides in the tree outside your bedroom window at night. In “Momento,” he brilliantly drifts a muffled recording of a choir above a din of brass and electronic drones, evoking a sense of being paralyzed in bed while phantasmagoric spirits greet you from above. One example is the sounds of nervous breathing that he uses to punctuate a few of the songs to give the prey’s experience like “Astratto 3,” where a woman huffs throughout a funky Afro percussion jaunt. The effect is heightened in the free-jazz nightmare “Corsa Sui Tetti” and the life-support system pulse of “L'Uccello Con Le Piume Di Cristallo (Titoli),” (both from Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage). Elsewhere, Morricone effectively punctures the skin with electronic feedback and ringing tones as they take a cool-jazz number to a barren moon in “Un Uomo Da Rispettare.” And then there is “Seguita,” a be-bop dive that runs through the streets to chase down and bicker at its demons.
Not everything works well in Crime as its second disc gets a little muddled with some incoherent and cartoonish moments of slapstick. While I appreciate that Bishop captured Morricone’s goofball charm, I wish that more serious orchestral pieces were picked as the composer could write poetry that went beyond celluloid with such music. “Ninna Nanna Per Adulteri” reminds me of that power again and again. It is a simple ballad with a choirboy singing a melody over a xylophone and soft string orchestral backing. However, that melody is unforgettable for how it evokes a sense of hope, then loss and finally acceptance of whatever the future may be. It is beauty that cannot be filmed.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: NOVEMBER 28 – DECEMBER 4, 2005
Reviewed by: Cameron Macdonald
Reviewed on: 2005-11-29