Every so often I break down and write about We Ragazzi on my blog. It is really weird. I know they are probably only as good as – um – trying to think of a band from the 21st century that I like and which you won’t yawn or sneer at – god that’s too hard – they are (or should I say were) only as good as Your Favourite Band, so partly – and this is a fully rarified version of something I have often felt – listening to them is a pleasure I get from knowing that quite possibly (a la the Red Crayola) I love this band more than anyone else on earth, and that ‘anyone else’ includes the members of the band. And I am reminded of strange things people have said to me about bands I consider totally fucking successful, like the Sunnyboys and the Beastie Boys (hmm… Boy bands) that they are ‘so underrated’. OK, fine. We Ragazzi are, to my mind, so underrated that that they barely even exist on the internet (some of their songs are ostensibly on youtube but if you click on them you get a One Direction song!). People who’ve seen them play have no time for their memory. The band’s former members themselves, as far as I can tell, are entirely uninterested. I mean it’s a challenge.
I’m going to put some completely meaningless visuals onto some of these songs and plonk them on youtube so at least people who search for them find (what I consider to be) great We Ragazzi songs rather than One Direction, whatever that is.
In the last couple of weeks, unable to find my copy of their first album and though not actually sick of the third one nonetheless a little unsurprised by what it holds, I decided to revisit the second, which is called The Ache. I never didn’t like this album, but it is a bit of an anomaly because the greatest ever drummer to have emerged on the 20th/21st century cusp, Alianna Kalaba, who plays on the first and third, isn’t on this one for some reason. Instead a guy called Timothy McConville joins Anthony and Colleen.
The reason I love We Ragazzi is… well, let me count the ways. One is the great guitar lines, and the interplay between those hooks and the vocals; then there’s the bizarre, horny/romantic/bohemian lyrics (almost all the songs on the first and the third albums can be placed, lyrically on a spectrum with poverty/circumstance at one end and romantic infatuation at the other); the superb, harsh keyboards; the no bass (and I lo-o-ove bass! But the lack of bass fully works); and I guess the vibe, which is edgy, clipped but very powerful. And the amazing rhythms Kalaba comes up with. I mean in many ways WR are like an extraordinary synchronized art piece, where you can imagine that if you saw film of them in action with the sound turned down, you wouldn’t even be certain they were playing together as a band, and then you turn it up and you realise it’s all cross-currents and interplay. I love that shit. It’s the same reason I love Jesse Chamberlain and Mayo Thompson playing together – a drummer who finds the right place in amongst the other components of the song but s/he isn’t just playing bomp-da-bomp-da-bomp to the end of every line (which is all I’ve ever really been able to do as a drummer – if I can get that right) but all over the top, underneath and through the whole.
Well, The Ache is a different thing. First of all, the songs are all pretty much love songs. There’s only a little bit of the other angle I always loved, about putting everything we own on the boulevard to get outta town, or having nowhere to go to have sex in private, or ‘Why Does the World Have to Modernise?’ Mainly, this is a love album. Secondly, McConville – who is credited with drums and electronics or something like that – did, I’m sure, take a very hands-on approach to the sound of the song, and the differentiation between various tracks etc. So whereas Alianna was always just telling or commenting on the story through her propulsive and expressive drums, McConville is throwing out very, very competent, much more straight-down-the-line drums, absolutely not in any way anything to be ashamed of – in fact, it’s great and ten times better than I could do at my best (yeah I feel self-conscious critiquing drumming). He’s also, I’m guessing, putting in his two cents’ worth about the sound and style and decoration on each track. So the incredible ballad ‘I Was So Goddamned’ has these echoey golden keyboard notes and angelic backing vocals on the chorus which wouldn’t have been on the first or third (OK, last) album – and around 45 seconds from the end, it goes amazingly r&b in an impressive, but very peculiar way. I’m not saying I don’t love it. I am saying it’s a very different creature to the other two records.
I listened to the whole of The Ache while writing the above. It is a truly sensational album, without a doubt. But then I went to the last album Wolves with Pretty Lips. We’re back on familiar territory right from the outset with the song ‘Walking Before All Shadows’ – it’s all ‘When you have no money, when you have no fame, when you have no connections, no family name’ and it’s not just a love song (though it kind of is), it’s about the freedom of getting out of town, cutting all ties, having nothing whatsoever. This is a feeling I doubt I will ever have, and if I did, I possibly wouldn’t like it. But I like to live it vicariously, and I’m really impressed. And further to my observation about Kalaba above, her playing is, while restrained here, so different from McConville in the detail. She can’t get through a bar without some kind of curlicue or twist. The song ‘Bels’ on WWPL, has every provision for the kind of dumbass beat I’d play through it like a 15 year old playing ‘No Fun’ for her/his first ever time on the drums. AK plays something that, if you want it to be, is that dumb. But then you listen a little more closely and realise that she’s doing something so intricate that, well, I don’t have the words to describe it, or the time to slow it all down and actually map it out as a rhythm. I mean, I don’t even know how I would do that anyway, I couldn’t, but what I do know is it’s not 4/4. I’m not saying McConville would have played 4/4. But you get the sense that with him, on The Ache, he’s thinking like a Motown producer or George Martin; ‘make it catchy, make it stick, make it easy the first time around’. I’m not saying I don’t see all the advantages in that approach. I am saying that when it comes to AK, it’s a distinctive texture that you just couldn’t find anywhere else.
I have written about this before, probably here, sorry, if you search for We Ragazzi online you’ll probably only get basically this blog post and some others I’ve done. Wherein is revealed my atypical mental block re AK’s last name. But the other odd thing about WWPL, which is only slightly relevant to what I’m talking about above, is that the lyrics suddenly get really gay, by which I don’t mean ghey, just gay. Not all of them. Some of the songs are Anthony Rolando singing to or about a woman. But ‘Making You Queens Tonight’ – well, I suppose technically women are literally more likely to become ‘queens’ than men but you know the terminology. And ‘I Want Butterflies (All the Time)’ – I mean holy fuck, not that I’ve ever used that phrase before and nor will I ever again, but it’s really pretty gay. Or am I totally mental? Yes, but I’m pretty sure I’m right about this one, it’s all about getting a boy, seeing a boy ‘at our shows’, not necessarily wanting to have sex with him (or at least, seeing him ‘in the morning bedroom light’, which I imagine is kind of an allusion to having sex with someone, unless you know they do room service at your hotel)… whew. Anyway what I wanted to say is, yes, I read too much into it, but I really feel like Kalaba is in the background doing this topsy-turvy drumming that’s kind of a tasteful version of a ‘doinggggg!’ sound effect (or the ‘stylus scratches the record’ noise) but it also says, you won’t expect this, but don’t take it at face value…
Bottom line is there aren’t too many bands, or albums, which can keep me occupied and entertained time after time. Most of them, when I know them, I don’t really need to hear them again (apparently there’s a word for this: it’s a psychological syndrome! Echo something). I think the ones that can keep me entertained time and time again are the ones where the drums, in particular, are complementary but unexpected (the other thing I usually need is that the lyrics are fun and intriguing). So, the first and last We Ragazzi albums fit that bill. I still really like The Ache and I’ve been loving it the last few weeks. But it’s the Kalaba magic, I reckon. Apparently she’s played in heaps of other bands, I really should check some out. The others who do it for me – Lindy Morrison (never plays through, always to the song), Clare Moore (good other musical training, I think, is the key for Clare), Jesse Chamberlain (I have never in my life said ‘mo-ther-fuck-er’ in an approving, awestruck way, but when I think of what he plays on the Red Crayola Three Songs on a Trip to the United States record, I am pretty tempted to try that out as an exultation), Jim White, Jeffery Wegener… yepz I could go on. But it’s cool. Gonna make those We Ragazzi videos for YouTube. (yawn) soon.