Saturday, May 18, 2024

Is Måneskin the Last Rock Band?

Here I should disclose that Larson edited an essay I wrote for Pitchfork about the Talking Heads album “Remain in Light” (score: 10.0) and that I think of myself as his friend. Possibly because of these biases, I read his review as reflecting his deeply held and, among rock fans, widely shared need to feel the music, something that the many pop/commercial elements of “RUSH!” (e.g. familiar song structures, lyrics that seem to have emerged from a collaboration between Google Translate and Nikki Sixx, compulsive use of multiband compression) left him unable to do.

This perspective reflects the post-’90s rock consensus (PNRC) that anything that sounds too much like a mass-market product is no good. The PNRC is premised on the idea that rock is not just a structure of song but also a structure of relationship between the band and society. From rock’s earliest days as Black music, the real or perceived opposition between rocker and society has been central to its appeal; this adversarial relationship animated the youth and counterculture eras of the ’60s and then, when the economic dominance of mass-market rock made it impossible to believe in, provoked the revitalizing backlash of punk. Even major labels felt obliged to play into this paradoxical worldview, e.g. that period after Nirvana when the most popular genre of music was called “alternative.” Måneskin, however, are defined by their isolation from the PNRC. They play rock music, but operate according to the logic of pop.

In Milan, where Måneskin would finish their Italian minitour, I had lunch with the band, as well as two of their managers, Marica Casalinuovo and Fabrizio Ferraguzzo. Casalinuovo had been an executive producer working on “The X Factor,” and Ferraguzzo was its musical director; around the time that Måneskin broke through, Casalinuovo and Ferraguzzo left the show and began working with the stars it had made. We were at the in-house restaurant of Moysa, the combination recording studio, soundstage, rehearsal space, offices, party venue and “creative playground” that Ferraguzzo opened two months earlier. After clarifying that he was in no way criticizing major record labels and the many vendors they engaged to record, promote and distribute albums, he laid out his vision for Moysa, a place where all those functions were performed by a single corporate entity — basically describing the concept of vertical integration.

Ferraguzzo oversaw the recording of “RUSH!” along with a group of producers that included Max Martin, the Swedish hitmaker best known for his work with Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. At Moysa, Ferraguzzo played for me Måneskin’s then-unreleased new single, “Honey (Are U Coming?)” which features many of the band’s signature moves — guitar and bass playing the same melodic phrases at the same time, unswung boogie-type rhythm of the post-Strokes style — but also has David singing in a higher register than usual. I listened to it first on studio monitors and then through the speaker of Ferraguzzo’s phone, and it sounded clean and well produced both times, as if a team of industry veterans with unlimited access to espresso had come together to perfect it.

The sheer number of older and more experienced professionals involved in Måneskin introduces a tension between the rock conventions that characterize their songwriting and the fundamentally pop circumstances under which those songs are produced. They are four friends in a band, but that band is inside an enormous machine. From their perspective, though, the machine is good.

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