Måneskin Is A Caricature Of A Rock Band

I remember when I heard Måneskin — the Italian band presently marketed as the latest “saviors” of rock music — for the first time. It was about a year ago, and I was in my car and listening to a local rock station. Before Måneskin came on, I’m pretty sure they were playing the Chili Peppers, because this station is usually playing the Chili Peppers. Then, without warning, “Beggin'” entered my airspace.

A garage-y cover of a 1967 Four Seasons hit, it sounded like Buckcherry doing a klezmer-rock jam. I could tell they weren’t American, which gave their Euro take on stateside butt-rock an “uncanny valley” quality, like an android performing a mildly glitchy and semi-human take of “How You Remind Me.” I can’t say I liked it, exactly, but I was intrigued: This, at the very least, is not the Chili Peppers, I thought.

After Shazam’ing the song, I swiftly learned the basics of Måneskin via my phone — quartet from Rome, runner-ups on the Italian version of X Factor, unexpected victors at the 2021 Eurovision song contest, insane viral success, proponents of “sexual freedom,” wardrobe borrowed from The Darkness when they were consuming most of the cocaine in London. Based on the resume, I assumed “Beggin'” was a novelty hit. Difficult to hate, impossible to take seriously, here today and gone tomorrow.

For now, at least, that snap judgment has proven to be dead wrong. “Beggin'” has been streamed 1.2 billion streams on Spotify, which puts it in the vicinity of “Wonderwall.” An original tune from 2021’s Teatro d’ira: Vol. I, “I Wanna Be Your Slave,” has wracked up an additional 750 million spins. And now this month comes their third album (and first mostly English language release), Rush! Co-produced by pop maestro Max Martin, the LP features a guest slot from Tom Morello, who recently declared that Måneskin are “standard-bearers” for the latest generation of rock fans.

Before I assess the merits of Rush!, allow me to go on a mini rant about how bands like this are always covered in the media. Various publications have already positioned this record in terms of its relationship with the overall health of rock music. (To be fair, I sort of did the same thing in the first sentence of this column.) For instance, in a positive review of the album, Rolling Stone charged that Måneskin is “the only major-league rock band making any dent in the culture at large.”

I don’t mean to single out one review, as this sort of thinking is common. It speaks to the weird cultural amnesia that exists in relation to the latest generation of bold ‘n’ brash rock resuscitators. Whenever we talk about one, we seem to instantly forget all of the other ones. The truth is that the world is positively swimming in rock bands, and a significant number of those are in the dent-making business. Even if we set aside the scores of legacy bands that continue to do big business on the road, Rolling Stone just this month put Boygenius on its cover and posed them in a manner intended to evoke the most iconic rock band of the last 30 years.

Oh, but that’s not a “rock” rock band, you might say. Herein lays the rub with the deathless “is rock dead or not?” conversation — a “rock band” is defined only in the narrowest of terms, and always by a standard that looks and sounds like an anachronistic caricature of the music. A “rock band” therefore must resemble an arena act that sold millions of records between 1986 and 1993. Which means they need to traffic in the most laughable of outmoded clichés. This requires projecting a “decadent” image that seemed dangerous back when Rikki Rachtman was a gainfully employed television host, while also feeling safe enough to exist inside of the corporate record label industrial complex.

But even if we only count cartoonish caricatures of rock stars as “rock stars,” there are other recent successes — Yungblud (a “divisive Gen Z rock star,” according to the U.K. Rolling Stone), Machine Gun Kelly, Ghost, my own guilty pleasure Greta Van Fleet, even the ubiquitous “true rock star” Harry Styles. (I almost put The 1975 in that rundown, though I fear this compliment might be construed as a putdown.)

My point is that there is something inherently limiting about reducing rock to a band like Måneskin. It’s like basing the “health” of hip-hop as a genre on whether rap stars are still dressing like the cover of Run-DMC’s Raising Hell. Then again, I’m probably burying the lede here — the fact is that cartoonish caricatures of rock stars are clearly popular. Because the caricature is fun, even if it is an artistic dead end.

Fun and artistic dead ends both appear in abundance on Rush! A good amount of the former comes from Martin, who is joined by a battery of producers whose credits include other rock-flavored pop hits from the likes of Walk The Moon, Grouplove, and Imagine Dragons. (The songwriting and production credits stretch as long as most pop records.)

In the aughts, Martin was responsible for co-writing and co-producing one of the era’s best pop-rock confections, Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.” Måneskin similarly emulates the post-Strokes rock that dribbled down to dozens of enjoyably sleazy knock-offs that have long since been forgotten. While their posturing and iconography feels borrowed from Netflix’s low-rent 2019 Motley Crue biopic — a foundational text for modern caricature rock co-starring (of course) Machine Gun Kelly — musically they’re closer to the bump-and-grind riffitude of Jet. (“Are You Gonna Be My Girl” is like the first Velvet Underground album for these acts.)

I have a decent amount of tolerance for this sort of thing, so I couldn’t help but smile when Morello did his best C.C. DeVille impersonation on the stupid-good single “Gossip.” I could even get behind the part in “Kool Kids” when singer Damiano David — who in the past has looked like Timothée Chalamet playing Jason Todd in a Woodstock 99 biopic — sings, “We’re not punk, we’re not pop, we’re just music freaks!” Sure, man, whatever you say! They’re not punk, but they do have some secondhand post-punk affectations, like the talk-singing in “Bla Bla Bla,” which is like if Jack Black wrote a Wet Leg song.

But over the course of an album, the relentless disco-rock thump inevitably feels one-note and wearying. (Actually, the power ballads are worse — “Timezone” is like one of the Alicia Silverstone songs from Get A Grip after a handful of Xanax.) I prefer the memory of this band appearing out of nowhere on the radio, making a singularly weird impression, and ultimately signifying nothing greater. Don’t expect Måneskin or anyone else to “save” rock. Thankfully, rock is strong enough to withstand the existence of all these messiahs.

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