Feb 20, 2023, 06:27AM

Måneskin Is 2023 Hair Metal

Critics still hate radio-ready pop rock.

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“[Måneskin]’s primary influence seems to be ‘Seven Nation Army’ chants at a soccer game, followed closely by late-era Red Hot Chili Peppers, followed extensively by nothing,” Pitchfork’s  Jeremy D. Larson sneers in his takedown of the Italian rock Eurovision band. The prose is funny, but it’s also clueless. Måneskin isn’t trying to be alternative rock, and their lineage isn’t mysterious. They’re hair metal.

Larson mentions hair metal glancingly in his review to dismiss it as the thing Nirvana obliterated. His disdain isn’t a surprise. Poptimism has largely reclaimed post-disco pop in part by pointing out that its dismissal was racist and sexist, so everyone these days can agree that Beyoncé is a genius. (Including me; Beyoncé is a genius!) Hair metal is a harder sell; promulgated by mostly white guys, the loud, vapid rock of Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, and Guns N’ Roses was sexist, loud, and desperate for airplay. Rockists hated it at the time for its ridiculous posturing and radio-ready packaged faux “rebelliousness.” Poptimists had more worthy subgenres to rescue.

I don’t think that’s a great historical injustice. I can’t make any sweeping claims for hair metal. But the bands often had fun catchy melodies, and the posturing could make you laugh. Måneskin—Eurovision victors in 2021— captures the shallow hair metal pleasures of ABBA pretending to be the Rolling Stones.

If big anthem chants and ridiculous tough-kid eyeliner puts you off, you’ll hate this. If you have an affection for old KISS records, though, this may feel like coming home. “Gasoline” is built on a repetitive lowest-common-denominator riff that would be at home on a Ramones album, as would the they-can’t-really-be-that-dumb-can-they? lyrics. “We’re gonna dance on gasoline!” Wait, you’re going to dance on gasoline? Not burn it, but—dance on it? I guess we’re just supposed to chant along to the unbelievably catchy hook until it all makes sense.

You get more of the same on “Bla Bla Bla” (“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha/you broke my heart so I crushed your car”) and the much maligned “Kool Kids.”

But cool kids, they do not use drugs (they do not)
Only weed 'cause it's not that strong
I'm a bitch and I have much fun (I have much fun)
And I like doing things I love, yeah

Larson’s review takes lyrics like that at face value and assumes that Måneskin isn’t in on the joke, or that it matters whether they are or not. But if Gene Simmons can confusedly brag that the ladies call him Mr. Speed, and Def Leppard can demand that you pour baking products on them as some sort of sex ritual, why not like doing things you love? There’s room in the rock tradition for enjoying idiotic lyrics as part of the joy of being so uncool you’re cool, or so cool you’re uncool, or so confused and high (only on weed, of course) that you can’t really tell one from the other.

There are a couple of mid-tempo power ballads, inevitably. They give Damiano David a chance to demonstrate that the neanderthal pose ends at his vocal chords; he can really sing. On “Timezone” he unleashes convincingly enough to make you think someone could hear him 7000 miles away. “If Not For You” is a passable Steve Perry imitation; when David name checks Nirvana and Billie Jean, you can see all the lighters getting raised in the air at once.

The thing about rock that Pitchfork intermittently forgets, but which hair metal understood, is that the genre was from the start fundamentally and joyfully silly. Little Richard belting out nonsense syllables or Elvis thrusting on stage; it was music for horny adolescents who wanted to revel in hormones and brain damage. Love Mötley Crüe or hate them, you’ve got to acknowledge that a song called “Kickstart My Heart” is meant more as a throwaway gag than as a testament for the ages.

And by those standards, Rush! is unrespectably respectable, and maybe slightly better than that. Mötley Crüe and its cohort could sound embarrassingly thin; Måneskin, with the benefit of 2023 production values and a bunch of big name producers like Sly and Captain Cuts, comes blaring out of your headphones as slick as real/fake Kook/unKool kids. Rush! may not be great, but like Elvis, the Beatles, KISS, and hair metal before it, it has succeeded in pissing off the critics. You don’t get more rock than that.


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