Apparently, La Rocca singer Bjorn Baillie said in an interview that he wanted to be “the best songwriter of (his) generation.” Of course, knowing British music tabloids, they can take the simple statement, “I own an air-conditioning company,” and turn it into, “I’m the coolest motherfucker on the planet, yo!” This mostly Dublin born, and Los Angeles based quartet has since garnered some believers in that lofty statement, with their spectacular EP release, Sing Song Sung and their highly anticipated debut album, The Truth. La Rocca, which is not Italian for `the rock,’ or the Flintstones version of an affluent San Diego suburb, will surely gain more with people throwing around comparisons with U2 so liberally. The Truth is, aside from an arena-sized presence and an upbringing in Ireland, there are few real likenesses between the two bands. Instead, La Rocca seems to have even loftier goals, and a basis more in American music than in their Irish culture.
I said in my review of Sing Song Sung that one of the highlights was “Sketches (20 Something Life),” and I called it this era’s “Born to Run.” That holds as true now as it did then, and La Rocca were incredibly smart to open the album with the anthemic track. The chiming keyboards, along with Baillie’s passionate and growly vocals, only strengthen that comparison. (Even La Rocca are aware of the likeness, as you can see a vinyl copy of The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle in the background of their collage-like cover). Paul Westerberg pop collides with ’80s synth glory in “If You Need the Morning,” which also bears a striking resemblance to Keane’s “Bend and Break.” The ebullient pianos and twisting keys highlight the fun sing-along choruses of “This Life,” sure to be one of their big pop singles. But the album changes gears with the title track. Bjorn and company switch from recent pop pastures to classic rock climes on the song, which recalls the Band in their Big Pink days. OK, so maybe there’s a whole lot of U2 that can be heard on “Goodnight,” but its one of the few songs with that distinction, and it’s more like U2 as its been funneled through Coldplay over the last few years. Another highlight comes with “Some You Give Away,” a slower and quieter number, but still with Baillie’s passionate vocal delivery. Again, the comparisons to the Band and even to Bob Dylan wouldn’t be too far off with this one.
“Eyes While Open” even namechecks the great Zimmy, even though the song is probably more reminiscent of a Soul Asylum track, at least one of their good ones. The lyrics also prove to be quite potent and politically charged, with the great closing lines, “Heaven’s got a problem with the casting couch, cause if God does the interviews you better watch out, it’s a rumor like that, oh Jesus won’t you tell us the truth, we’re being used.” Baillie does a near perfect Mike Scott impression towards the bridge of “Cats,” another chiming keyboards meet blue-collar guitar churner. By the closing numbers of most of the albums I review, momentum seems to sag like Nixon’s jowls and wattle, but not so with The Truth. La Rocca seem to, if not get better, at least stay consistent to the very last note. “Non Believer” is the one other song that can be said to resemble U2 with its background “do-doo’s,” but again, it’s a filtered U2, this time through Keane, but with better results. “Capital Pill” saves some of the best for last, again with that roots rock feel, thanks to some tinny acoustic strings, resonant piano and Baillie’s magnetic voice.
I was highly impressed with Sing Song Sung, but The Truth has jumped up to another plateau. Call some of their songs derivative or imitative, there is no denying that La Rocca has created something special right out of the gate. These Dubliners have bridged the gap between Dylan and U2 while updating it for modern rock radio. If nothing else, La Rocca will make a star of Bjorn Baillie, a talented guitarist, a gifted songwriter, and an even better singer. All of that, plus youthful good looks, could make him the next Bono.
The Band- Music from the Big Pink
Bruce Springsteen- Born to Run
The Walkmen- Bows + Arrows