It’s been a little more than a month since the fourth season finale of Breaking Bad and I still can’t get this song out of my head. The show does so many things so well — Southwestern cinematography, unbearably tense pace, Aaron Paul’s perfect employment of the term “bitch” — that its use of music can easily be overlooked. But that’s a mistake. The show’s producers are as deft with the soundtrack as they are with those Albuquerque backdrops. Take the haunting song that plays at the end of that episode, as the camera closes in on Walter White’s innocuous houseplants. The plaintive guitar, menacing beat and dreamy vocals had me immediately breaking out Shazam to figure out what it was.
The track is “Black,” from Danger Mouse’s 2011 album Rome, with vocals by Norah Jones. Rome is another Danger Mouse experiment in genre-bending collaboration, in this case, taking on the classic soundtracks of spaghetti Westerns. Together with the Italian composer Daniele Luppi — and guests like Jones and former White Stripes frontman Jack White — Danger Mouse deconstructs the music that backed Sergio Leone movies like A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Most of the album is instrumental, with tracks like “Roman Blue” that float on lush strings and the wordless cooing of a soprano. But Danger Mouse has dropped in a handful of songs like “Black” that take advantage of the talents of his musical superfriends. With his strangled tone, White sounds like he’s ready for a gunfight at high noon, while the pillowy Jones is an aural lily of the valley — beautiful but dangerous. You could make a hell of a movie to go with the amazing soundtrack that Danger Mouse and Luppi have produced. But maybe it’s fitting that the best track has been used for a contemporary Western, even if is shot in New Mexico, not Italy.