“They ask me why so hot/Cause I’m Italiano.” So go the words of Damiano David, lead singer of Italian four-piece rock band Måneskin. Bursting onto the Italian music scene like a bat out of hell in 2017 after placing second on X-Factor: Italy, Måneskin have gone on to win Eurovision in 2021, Best New Artist at the VMAs (after snubbing a headlining slot at Reading Festival), and now, with the release of RUSH!, score their first Top 20 album in the US Billboard 200. Not bad for a bunch of pretty faces.
Comprised of vocalist Damiano David, guitarist Thomas Raggi, bassist Victoria di Angelis and drummer Ethan Torchio, Måneskin are best known for their electric cover of the Four Seasons classic “Beggin” and the hard-rocking “Zitti E Buoni”. In an era dominated by everything but rock, their unapologetic, flamboyant, and most importantly, marketable brand of glam rock is a welcome refresher. Remember when rock stars were sleazy, untouchable, larger-than-life libertines? Neither do I, but Måneskin is the closest – and highest-profile – act we’ve got.
RUSH! is proof that Måneskin’s stratospheric rise to prominence is backed up by more than just sex appeal (although, I concede, that is certainly part of the charm) and the glitzy glamour of Eurovision. With many bands laying down their grunge-rock, riff-laden credentials (the Arctic Monkeys’ The Car and The Vaccines’ Back in Love City particularly unfortunate examples), Måneskin is living proof that a simple riff goes a long way. Collaborating with funk-metal giant Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, “GOSSIP” stomps along to a driving, made-for-the-stadium guitar riff, punctuated by Morello’s signature whammy-heavy solos. “GOSSIP” bites back.
Amp up the volume – RUSH! is jam-packed with arena-ready singalongs. “GASOLINE” is a bass-heavy, power-metal anthem, driven by the wind-tunnel roar of guitars. “DON’T WANNA SLEEP”—one of the standouts—is a rip-roaring track that takes advantage of Raggi’s penchant for funk-laden rhythm and a punchy riff. Måneskin’s songs are as catchy as they are formulaic, relying on wickedly minimalistic, stomping grooves for a four-chord earworm.
One minute David is “a lion tamer/ of indecent behavior/ making love with danger”, the next he’s singing his heart out on the magnificent “IF NOT FOR YOU”. For a band characterised by their riotously provocative performances—replete with assless chaps, nipple pasties and latex—”IF NOT FOR YOU” is one of the few contemplative moments of the album. Recorded in one take, David’s vocals are front-and-centre, drenched in reverb and accompanied with lush strings. They may not be Meatloaf, but they sure can write a power ballad.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Di Angelis takes a page out of Jack White’s book and revives the art of the bassline in the bombastic “MAMMAMIA”, whereas Raggi recalls Frusciante in the Chilli Peppers-reminiscent ‘SUPERMODEL’. A coked-up Nineties supermodel steals a Basquiat off the wall – it may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, but Måneskin have certainly earned the right to party.
However, RUSH! is self-satirical to the point of ridiculousness—the rockstar shtick only works so many times. The sneering “BLA BLA BLA” and “KOOL KIDS” feature bathroom-wall lyrics like “I hate your face, but I like your mum”. The stratospheric jump between “MARK CHAPMAN”—a song sung in their native Italian about Lennon’s obsessive, fame-craving murderer—and the new-wave spoken delivery of “ha ha ha ha-ha-ha-ha/I wanna fuck, let’s go to my spa” is never more evident.
While turning their nose up at critical snobbery and embracing the whirlwind of newfound fame, Måneskin also fall prey to a cardinal album sin, namely, ‘bad decisions in track listings’. Much like actual rush hour, the album feels congested with repetitive rock-star epithets. Singles “MAMMAMIA”, “SUPERMODEL” and “THE LONELIEST” are tacked onto the end of the album, with the front half saturated with lurid pop-punk. Much like actual rush hour, the album feels congested with repetitive rock-star epithets. Cocaine was cool the first time you did it, but by the fifth track, the album needs some rehab.
I’ll be the first to point out that snobbish rock n’ roll purist nonsense is losing sight of the spirit of the genre—neither Deep Purple nor Van Halen were formed with the goal of fawning Rolling Stone sycophantism in mind—yet Måneskin seem to have remained firmly within arena-friendly turf. From the carefully crafted pop hooks to the processed drumbeats, pop giant Max Martin’s fingerprints are all over the seventeen-track album, turning the subversive four-piece (Måneskin’s live acts are always one to watch, when they haven’t cancelled their shows in favour of the VMAs) into a prepackaged, palatable, straight-to-arena rock band. There’s a reason the most popular X-Factor acts are the likes of One Direction and Little Mix, and we regard rock n’ roll reunion acts like the upcoming Def Leppard/Mötley Crüe reunion tour with a degree of pity – once the giants of the eighties, these fading, has-been, hard-rocking dinosaurs are slowly going extinct in the streaming age. Rock stars have become a curiosity, fodder for the recent appetite for biopics. Acts like Måneskin and Greta van Fleet step in and yet can’t help but be compared with those that came before them. Without falling into clichés of ‘music was better in the good old days’ (that I most certainly wasn’t alive for), as an ardent rock fan I certainly hope the rock scene will continue to have more to offer.
With that being said, Måneskin clearly still has a lot to offer. Raggi is a genuinely talented guitarist, drawing from Frusciante’s funk to Page’s blues-inspired playing. Di Angelis’ cocksure strut, supreme ease while playing the bass and unapologetic bisexuality places her firmly alongside the likes of Joan Jett and Suzie Quatro. Torchio’s is as frenetic as he is magnetic, and David joins Greta van Fleet’s Josh Kiszka and The Black Keys’ Daniel Auerbach as some of the best rock vocalists today. To cry about the sad state of the music industry is to ignore the evolution of rock—far from fizzling out into obscurity, it has found a home in genres as diverse as Michael Kiwanuka’s indie-soul to Foals’ psychedelia (not to mention rollicking rock acts like The Reytons, Larkin Poe and Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram). Too often people equate subversiveness with having ‘real’ rock n’ roll credentials (remember The Monkees?)—while Måneskin may not (yet) be revolutionary, they certainly aren’t—the dreaded word—sellouts, convincingly carrying the torch from glam rockers like KISS, Aerosmith, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi.
Punchy, slick, and infinitely danceable, RUSH! is an album with teeth. In the words of Ronnie James Dio: Long Live Rock n’ Roll. Alex Turner, eat your heart out.