Sandness. The essence of sand. It’s coarse and it’s rough and it’s irritating and it gets everywhere.1 Such characteristics are not really desirable for a young Italian rock band releasing their third album and aiming to bring 80s hair metal to the modern day. Untamed follows a three-year break, a time in which the band aimed to create something “more straightforward, shorter and more lighthearted,” descriptors which are quite different to those listed above. But the real queries are around quality. Do they achieve their goals? Should you invest your time here? Do I like Sand(ness)?
I’ll answer these questions with more questions. You’re familiar with Bon Jovi right? And Poison? And Cinderella? Well so are Sandness. Not only are they familiar with these groups, but they love them. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Sandness flatter their influences. Jocular riffs, melodic shouts and harmonization—all are present and correct in forging this tight collection of tunes. No depth is left unplumbed in their commitment to emulating their (crimson) idols. Call and response vocals? See opener “Life’s a Thrill.” Verses which alternate between the guitar lead and vocals to accentuate rhythms? Hear “Tyger Bite.” Group vocals to pad out the chorus? Check out “London.” Overblown guitar solos? Everywhere. All of this is demonstrated across the opening three tracks and no subsequent track offers any surprises.
Structurally, Untamed tracks 11 songs across only 38 minutes (“shorter”). It’s a pleasingly speedy and immediate listen with melodies with which you’ll be familiar on one play. These are the sorts of tracks emulating the stuff which garnered radio play from 30-second samples with DJs and it’s hard to deny their catchy simplicity. The songwriting is tight and direct, with riffs which are upbeat and driving; driving in the sense that they have their own energy but also make for enjoyable driving music. It’s far from complex songwriting (“straightforward”) but I appreciate the skill in writing hooks which typically land.
The greatest issue is the fact that Untamed is so derivative. While I could extract a few of the best cuts for future listening (“London” and “Radio Show,” for example), spinning its entirety simply compels me to turn to records such as Slippery When Wet, Night Songs or Hysteria. There’s not much particularly wrong but it lacks excellence and reminds me that there are excellent releases in this genre. On a non-musical point, Untamed also lacks the real threat or sleaze of the genre in the 80s2. “Life’s a Thrill” is a simple ode to life itself, while “Never Givin’ Up” is exactly as feel-good as it sounds. Even “Tell Me, Tell Me,” which seemingly concerns partying, drinking and girls and which could have devolved to cock rock, ultimately defers to positivity as the narrator’s misfortune over an unfaithful woman turns into a self-affirming message (“Life is short, what’s done is done. / Now to me you are no one”). In this way Sandness have achieved what they set out to be (“lighthearted”) but the record simply feels less transgressive and less fun with the knowledge that its creators have more pure outlooks on life and probably didn’t trash a swanky hotel room while recording it.
As it turns out, Sandness are neither coarse, nor rough, nor irritating. It also seems unlikely that they will get everywhere on account of the group’s low profile. Instead, Untamed is characterized by a lack of strong reaction; it’s a solid if unremarkable slice of hair metal worship which demonstrates technical ability but also a lack of imagination and danger. It’s hard to imagine Mary Whitehouse and her ilk fearing the immolation of social dignity and integrity through this record, compared with the imminent mortal threat posed by Styx, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Nonetheless, you could do worse for summery driving music and you may get a few fun hours through a couple of listens.