THE MANIACS - Die Option
Having been a part of the Italian music scene since 2001, The Maniacs finally coalesced as a band in 2008, released an EP and soon after, the following, their eponymous debut album. Back then the punk roots were still pretty obvious although the trio added different genres to come up with something fresher sounding. I missed out on reviews on their next EP Material (2011) and CD Cattive Madri (2012), so it’s only fair I get back to the Milanese band with their third longplayer Die Option.
The Maniacs are still acting as a three-piece, but their collaboration with jazz producer Massimo Guasconi has definitely helped them to get a much richer sound than ever before. The band found a prolific guest musician in Alberto Centofanti who’s adding all kinds of vintage synths (Hammond organ, clavinet, mellotron, electric piano) to give the material occasionally a very strong Seventies touch. Gone are also the Italian lyrics that the band tried on their last album.
Die Option begins with the first single track Shelter, a crunchy rock song that caught me unawares at first, because of the all but gone punk elements. Instead we get a deliciously arranged rock song with a supreme chorus and some incredible vocal harmonies. This is truly a hit song! The following Summer begins with a piano rhythm, and it’s the mellotron part at the very latest that will show you that this is a perfect psychedelic pop song in the vein of late Sixties Beatles. Ahoy! veers back to the direction of the opener, but is even a tad more hard rocking, giving this song the attitude of an early glam metal song before that genre was hopelessly commercialised. Once again the band is trumping with a superb chorus that nowadays so few bands get right. And just to show that they can, the fourth track Nothing At All sees the band flirting with disco rock à la Mother’s Finest. We even get female backing vocals to give the song the necessary late Seventies flair.
The first third of the album is absolutely amazing. But it becomes clear that the Maniacs must have put their best material upfront. Black Parrot for instance is some kind of bluesy post grunge with touches of alternative hard rock, where the vocalist, who did a great job on the preceding material, is totally overdoing here it at times. The Liars is a more sedate alternative rock track that is comforting for the mishap before. Holland Park is the only track below three minutes and maybe allows hints of the band’s punk past, but also shows that the musicians have moved on since then. A Girl Called Sunshine is probably the band’s weakest effort. This ballad feels off on the album, is brimming with ill placed pathos, and the synthesizer sounds used during the chorus... let’s better not talk about them. Phoenix shows the band trying their hands on a more soul oriented rock sound, which is further emphasised on Wonderland which sounds like a tribute to Jamiroquai. Another highlight comes with Dear Lennon (War It’s Never Over) which can convince with a rousing chorus. The concluding Free As A Slave is a bluesy soul rock song that recalls a little the music of Living Colour, without achieving that band’s grandeur though.
When all is said and done, Die Option is an affair full of light but also some shadows. Half the tracks are really exceptionally great, but among the remaining, I had three songs that really did nothing at all for me. Still the trio is offering thus more quality than most bands can afford today. If The Maniacs were able to come up with an entire album’s worth of songs that have the quality of the first four tracks of this record, they would become one of my favourite bands. And I am not giving up hope yet.