Underdogs, Revolution Love: Desert Ride of the Mother Fuzzers

Heavy rocking Italian trio Underdogs got together in 2005 and released their Go Down Records debut in the form of 2007’s Ready to Burn. That record was rife with straightforward desert-hued rock and fuzz, and their sophomore outing following 2009’s unplugged download-only EP, Dogs without Plugs, Revolution Love, continues the thread started by the first album. Underdogs – joined here by new drummer Alberto “Trevi” Trevisan – ably capture their appreciation for the sound of the Californian desert. The guitars of Michele “Jimmy” Fontanarosa have a crunch and compression to them that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent time with Songs for the Deaf or Lullabies to Paralyze-era Queens of the Stone Age, and though bassist Simone “Sabbath” Vian (also vocals) has a punkish bent to his playing at times and a cleaner, less directly fuzzed tone, the three-piece work well together in carrying across their musical ideas and influences. Vian’s vocals remind in places of earliest Dozer, and though they’re not blindingly original, the songs have a sense of character to them that comes out over the course of repeat listens, be it the sub-psych brooding stonerism of “Into the Wild (O.W.K.)” or the catchy upbeat drive of opener “Prove You Wrong” and it’s “Burn motherfucker, burn motherfucker, burn,” chorus. Perhaps unsurprisingly, sex is a regular feature on Revolution Love, “Devil Dancing (Pyramida)” opening with a solid bass groove and some “Oh baby, slowly” moaning from Vian. It kind of felt like listening to someone getting a blowjob in that verse, but I guess that’s probably what Underdogs were going for. Fair enough.

That song picks up into one of Revolution Love’s most complex structures, running from one rocking riff to the next and only returning to the bass-led opening part for its outro section. As a late-album sidestep from the well-established (by then) ethic of straightforward songwriting, it works well and is made all the more effective by its still-catchy chorus. In general, the second half of the album begins to move away from some of the earlier cuts’ methods, but the accessibility of “Prove You Wrong” and “Beautiful Optional Girl” remains high throughout, and as “(Feel Like) Mad Cow” puts Vian’s bass in the leadership role for the first time, Fontanarosa driving the chorus but stepping back for the verse, their moves aren’t entirely unannounced. Interplay between the guitar and bass, maybe even more than between the bass and the drums or the guitar and the drums, proves to be the crux of Revolution Love – whether or not that’s due to when Trevisan came on board, I don’t know – and that’s not a slight on the drummer’s playing. However, as Vian lays down a warm groove for the more subdued, quiet Truckfighters-esque “Helpless,” I’m more drawn to Fontanarosa’s accenting notes than Trevisan’s drum work. On the whole, the trio works well together, but one gets the feeling that there’s more integration to come from this lineup, though by the time the start-stop verse of “Half a Blowjob” hits, it hardly feels like a concern at all.

“Into the Wild (O.W.K.)” starts the second half of the album and is Underdogs’ longest inclusion at 6:23. Were it not for the instrumental closer “Winter Moon” to come, it would also be the most atmospheric, though as far as the songs with vocals go, it’s probably the highlight of the record. The riffs feel thicker and more driving, the pace is less frantic and the vibe is less like a rock and roll party and a bit darker. I wouldn’t want a whole album of it from them, but it works well, and Vian’s bass makes it. The following track, “Mother Fuzzers” revives the catchy progression of “Prove You Wrong” and with the lines, “I don’t want to live in the world of mobile phones ‘cause I like to touch/Don’t want to live in a world made of gold ‘cause I like the dirt,” “Miss Ruler” concisely sums up a lot of Revolution Love’s lyrical and musical perspective. It also has one of the album’s most effective builds, with a second half that hits harder and a rawer vocal from Vian atop Fontanarosa’s energized riff. With “Devil Dancing (Pyramida),” a slower, smoother groove gives way to the aforementioned flurry of heavy parts, and the instrumental “Winter Moon” surprises in its melodic capability. It wouldn’t be worth sacrificing some of what Vian is able to accomplish vocally on Revolution Love, but I’d be interested to hear Underdogs develop their instrumental side more for the next outing, since “Winter Moon” seems to give Fontanarosa more room to stand out on the guitar. It also capitalizes on the more open mood of “Devil Dancing (Pyramida)” and the opening of “Miss Ruler” to finish the record with consistent tone and vibe. There’s some Yawning Man influence at work, albeit put to use in a less jammy mindset.

It would be an easy one to let slip through the cracks after one listen, but repeat visits up the charm of Revolution Love and ultimately, the album proves worth the time it takes to get a proper sense of it. Underdogs may be just that when it comes to reinventing the style in which they’re playing, but the impression from these songs is that suits them just fine, and they’re more about riffing out than revolutionizing, whatever title the album might carry. Since they’re not pretending otherwise, I’m inclined not to hold it against them, and instead take on Revolution Love for what it is – straightforward Euro-style stoner rock with engaging compression in the guitar and some familiar swagger – and I’d recommend that if you’re going to check out Underdogs’ latest,  you approach it in a similar fashion.

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