‘Why!’ by Magnolia [No label]

Available from mariangela@magnoliaband.it

Reviewed by Troy Southgate

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THE cover of this thirty-minute demo shows a figure attempting to balance himself upon a solar tightrope between the upper and lower realms of the earth. There is an obviously symbolic connection between the group’s portrayal of these apollonian and chthonic images and the central theme of Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, something which is occasionally – if not consciously - reflected in the lyrics. Magnolia come from Bari, a small town in Southern Italy and, despite this being their first release, have been playing music together since 1996. Previously, Magnolia had been a Gothic tribute band known as CureEyes, but they now describe themselves as an electro-rock act and have since assembled a great repertoire of their own. The first of these songs, ‘Ripping the Black Veil’, is a majestic swirl of keyboards and tapping drumbeats. Mariangela Albanese’s voice is slightly similar to that of Siouxsie Sioux of the Banshees, with all the punch that characterised the post-punk wave of the early-1980s. There is a nihilistic attitude running through the lyrics, too, although the group’s slightly awkward use of English language does not water-down or diminish their imaginative, care-free and decidedly escapist approach to life. ‘People Close To Night’ contains some pretty anti-feminist lyrics such as ‘I’ve seen the beautiful Eve / Can’t you see she’s the thorn in the man’s side’. But before you pin the misogynist tag onto the Magnolian chest just yet, I’d better explain that these words were actually penned by a woman. Eve, of course, as the Eternal Seductress, is historically perceived as an obstacle to male virility in a variety of religions and cultures, so this represents a celebration of the unbridled Heroic principle rather than a cheap insult of any kind. Musically, this song has a very fresh and modern sound, and Mariangela’s voice has a very wide range and on the low notes she sounds remarkably similar to Pauline Black of The Selector during their ‘Celebrate the Bullet’ period. The similarities continue into the beautiful song ‘Meaning’, although here the lyrics deal with disillusionment and the elusive quest for perfection. ‘Aloisi’ deals with the pale blue Ghost of Montebello, a legend from 1375 which tells of the dead spirit of a young child who has been seen to play with a ball made from pasta. This phenomenon takes place every Summer Solstice (21st June) and scientific recordings have even been made of this macabre event. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this song is performed in a more Gothic style than its predecessors and the strange vocals – delivered in a thick Italian accent – rise and fall alongside Ettore Torelli’s booming bass guitar. Smeared with a rasp of electronic crackle, ‘A Bed of Melodies’ is somewhere between a sad lament and an affirmation of life itself. Somehow there is an ironic self-awareness in the immediate presence of pain and bitterness. ‘Wings of Lover’, which is one of three songs co-written by Magnolia’s former bassist, Fabrizio Tatone, alludes to a fear of being forgotten. Thoughts of Christmases past are conserved by sleep-walking spirits that prick the eternal memory. The music is much slower than on previous outings and Salvatore Zitoli’s mournful guitar complements his measured vocal duet with Mariangela perfectly. The chorus (‘Ohhh, don’t forget me when I’m gone’) is extremely catchy, too. The guitaring on the next song, however, ‘The Time of Revolution’, is far heavier and perhaps underpins the discordant nature of the subject matter being discussed. Mariangela goes into orthodox Siouxsie mode and the results are brilliant. Hers is a vivacious, feminine indictment of Stepford Wives and ‘boring empty women’ everywhere and this is possibly my favourite track on the whole demo. The last track, ‘The Noise’, would sit nicely on a Cure album and has a sort of helter-skelter-coming-down theme. Like ripples in a pond, it seems to address the fact that small actions – or, in this case sounds - can effectively resonate on a larger scale. This song is absolutely brilliant and a very powerful way to end the album. Finally, the members of Magnolia express their non-dualist philosophy in the following few sentences: ‘Where the sun meets the night, where white meets black, where a tear meets a smile, where the past meets the future. In the balance on this borderline, the true essence is’. I’m with them all the way. For more information: www.magnoliaband.it