A lot of them don't get rock music. Rock music seems to be built on something peculiar to Anglophone culture.
Sure, the French did some nifty pop - they can do anything if they put on some nice clothes and stick their tongues in their cheeks - and there were a few people in the colder regions of Europe who aped the Brits and Yanks well. The Germans are good at everything. Oh, and Latin America just gets music.
But rock in the Mediterranean? In Italy, especially? Well, there's Pavarotti showing up on 'Miss Sarajevo'. Some Eurovision balladeers in tight leather trousers: men with curly hair and five-o-clock shadows doing their best Celine Dion.
Odd, then, that the most prominent non-English-speaking prog outfit are Italians (discounting the Kosmische
lot, who are only prog because the prog boys want to claim some secondhand coolness). But then again, given prog's tendency to try for classical transcendency, maybe the Italians would have something to offer? This is the land of Verdi, Puccini and Rossini, of Monteverdi and Vivaldi. If anyone knows how to play an archlute, it's them.
So my interest was piqued enough to give a whirl to this one, which regularly turns up in "best prog album ever" lists at about number 18 and even made BCB's own Prog Canon with about 90% of votes in support.
It's a prog album.
They have some classical touches. They have some jazz touches. They have some '70s rock touches. They have some bad production on the rhythm section. They definitely know their way around a nice melody and the classical and jazz elements are by far the most convincing, but they doom themselves by progging out.
The opening track, 'Appena Un Pò', is a good example. It starts with a very nice ambient synth wave, then suddenly I'm listening to William Byrd or something. It's very nice, but I'm just wondering why I'm listening to some Italian proggers imitate the real thing. And then, and then, the chunky rock starts. They quite literally carry on playing their frilly madrigal but put a blobby '70s bass and lumpen drums underneath it. This is why prog gets a bad rap. Why do that?
Other tracks are similarly confusing. Am I to appreciate the delicate melodies in 'Il Banchetto', or roll my eyes at the misguided synth tweaking? Or just skip the track when they start foolishly bleeping away in the middle of it? OK, props to them for composing the soundtrack to a lesser Super Mario
sequel twenty years before the fact, but it sounds crap.
There is little De Niro-faced widdling here, but what there is is a lack of focus disguised as exploration and experimentation. No quibbles with either activity: but moderation is key. Here, they desperately throw everything they have into the record and never give themselves time to sit down, think about what their strengths are, and really explore the things they are good at.
It's frustrating because there are some really pretty passages here. Some of the flautism and twittering are a bit on the kitschy side, but they have some lovely melodies and atmospheres. They just suffer from the prog curse, that failure to resist doing too much, venturing into the unnecessary and the unappealing too often. The classical-style passages are all well and good, but a bit pointless: other people did this, and did it better, 150 years earlier. If they concentrated on the lightly jazzy, ambient passages - mellotron ahoy! - this would be a delightful record. As it is, it's an interesting one but not one I will be returning to.