Casa 69

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Negramaro's early alt-rock efforts failed to score with the Italian public, and Casa 69 is a vivid illustration of how the band solved the problem, as it mixes Anglo-Saxon modern rock with dramatics of a Sanremo music festival. The group builds on a typical alternative rock foundation, blending moderately heavy, often multi-layered guitars and Coldplay-like pianos into a wall of sound that Muse might have mistaken for their own (incidentally, the record is produced by David Bottrill, who worked with Muse, Placebo, and Tool) -- but the melodies are pure Italian pop, sweet and sentimental to the bone. Occasionally, it comes across almost as a heavy metal take on opera, like neo-classical metal (incidentally, a style popular in Italy) adapted for the alt-rock crowd, with the music retaining the larger-than-life size, but offering a slightly different emotional palette that replaces Matthew Bellamy's northern hysteria with operatic bombast. Just as often, though, it sounds like pumped-up Adriano Celentano or Eros Ramazzotti produced by Rick Rubin -- in other words, too melodramatic to appeal to a contemporary rock fan outside Italy, at least on the first try: the songs actually grow on the ears, with the sappiness revealed to be a superficial element, an outer layer covering good arrangement and songwriting skills as well as genuine emotion. The band goes through a variety of styles on Casa 69, from post-punk and acidic rock suggesting Shellac to epic ballads and odd takes on heavy blues ("Londra Brucia"), and doesn't fail at any of them. The record is still a hard sell emotionally -- when all is said and done, it's too explicitly dramatic -- but that may count as expanding the stylistic boundaries, and in any case, while the music is an acquired taste, it's certainly well done.

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