Written by Helena McFadzean
Daniele Luppi colours barely, yet decisively outside the lines with his new concept album, Milano.
Milano, a collaborative concept album by Daniele Luppi and Parquet Courts, and featuring Karen O, was released on the 27th of October via Danger Mouse’s 30th Century Records. It tells the tale of eighties youth culture in Milan and its relationship to the art world and excessive imagery associated with the city. Prostitutes, artists, drug addicts, dissatisfied youth and a trill muse tell us their different stories of the same city seen through their eyes. A short art-punk album inspired by the 80’s youth and art culture of Milan, spanning only nine songs, Milano is much snappier than we are used to with Luppi. The album appears to be a sequel to Luppi’s previous and first collaborative album, Rome, released in 2011 with Danger Mouse and featuring Norah Jones as well as Jack White.
As with Rome, Luppi invites his collaborators to enter an exploration of Italian culture. Milan remains somewhat An Italian Story, but now takes its inspiration from 80s New Wave, rather than legendary cinematic scores. The label describes the album as a collection of ‘fictionalized stories about misfits, fashionistas, outcasts and junkies in mid-1980s Milan (…) struggling to be heard amidst [Milan’s] rapid gentrification’. This lends each song its distinct personality, lyrically and sonically, forming an eclectic album when combined. Parquet Courts and Karen O are fitting collaborators because of the wide artistic range and zeal they represent. Andrew Savage’s monotonic drawls in combination with Karen O’s theatrically exaggerated vowels enable Daniele Luppi to realise his diverse vision of Milan in the 1980s.
Karen O, who is featured on four of the songs, complements the retrospective perfectly with her highly addictive and energetic voice. Who would be better at capturing the flamboyance of eighties youth? Since her decisive turn to a softer, folkier sound in her solo work, on this album we hear a return to her energetic, theatrical Yeah Yeah Yeahs-era persona, especially in the album’s seventh song, The Golden Ones, and the second, Talisa.
Andrew Savage’s dissatisfied rant criticizes the fashionable artists and theorists of eighties Milan in Memphis Blues Again, which don’t seem to represent the youth properly over a repetitive, twangy guitar and bass rhythm. As chorus speeds up and becomes increasingly chaotic, he sings ‘we are stuck inside the memphis blues again’ almost sarcastically. The song captures the humor applied as a coping mechanism for feeling stuck in reality.
Within the first two songs, the dichotomy of eighties Milan is already revealed. Soul And Cigarette tells the story of feeling removed yet masochistically entwined with the city at once. Meanwhile, Talisa is about the excess and carelessness of Milan’s high art scene, referencing Talisa Soto, a close friend of Gianni Versace. Karen O portrays this outrageous character really well, sounding mischievous through her dragged out vowels and exclamations to the upbeat song.
The third song, Mount Napoleon flips the coin on Milan’s image in a tongue-in-cheek way. Having just listened to Talisa, a fun, whirlwind track, the third song sarcastically references the excess of its predecessor. Savage sings, “I’m not dreaming about Cartier when I say I wish I had a rock”, making references to both the cracked-out youth culture of eighties Milan and the excess we naively associate with the time, accompanied by the chaotic twang of the guitar.
In comparison to his previously released collaborative album with Danger Mouse, Rome, Milano is a much more distinctive departure from Luppi’s typically more cinematically inspired work. In Rome, the instrumentals were more cinematic, yet Milano stands alone as a collaborative project, intentionally isolated from Luppi’s previous work through its tendency towards art-punk. The album feels like a fuller realization of Luppi’s ability to choose artists that will give a voice to his vision via a departure from his musical comfort zone. The concept of the album remains Italian culture. The voices employed to respond to it, however, are more distinctive, and therefore bold and honest.