Sunday, 8 March 2015

PLANET WOMAN

I Dik Dik were formed in Milan in 1965 by Pietruccio Montalbetti (guitar, bass vocals), Giancarlo Sbriziolo (guitar, vocals), Erminio Salvaderi (guitar, vocals), Mario Totaro (keyboards) and Sergio Panno (drums). They have been active for more than forty years and were very successful in Italy during the late sixties and early seventies thanks to their collaboration with Lucio Battisti and Mogol and thanks to the Italian versions of songs like “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” by Procol Harum or “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas And Papas. They have always been just a beat and pop band and “Suite per una donna assolutamente relativa” is their only true progressive effort. The album was released in 1972 (a period when almost everybody in Italy seemed to go crazy for prog) but it was a commercial flop so, after this album, the band turned back and took another musical direction.


Suite per una donna assolutamente relativa” is a concept work featuring lyrics by the eclectic artist of Jewish origins Herbert Pagani. It was conceived as a musical and poetical journey through “planet woman”: the female body here is compared to an unknown world to explore, both physically and spiritually... The music was composed by keyboardist Mario Totaro and it’s an excellent mix of progressive rock and Italian melody.

The opener is the melodic, light “Donna paesaggio” (Woman Landscape). A man is flying over a strange planet, “Woman landscape / I’m flying over you with caresses / And along my journey I can see lands, lakes, mountains and the mirage of my happiness / I will sing of you / Like a Greek poet of the ancient times... And my voice will be a hymn to your naked freedom...”. The music is rich and features beautiful touches of church-like organ and mellotron...

I Dik Dik

On the second track “Il viso” (The Face) our “hero” comes down with his parachute landing in a forest of “hair-trees”, then he explores the brows surrounding “two lakes of blue water” (the eyes), then the nose, the ears... “I can already see your lips on the horizon / Your mouth is smiling to me / And your smile reveals a city / Atlantis of light that kills me... And to know a little bit more / I breathe awhile / Then I dive and go down...”.

The sound of the moog marks a change in atmosphere that becomes darker in the next track “Il cuore” (The Heart). “Like a cast-away on his raft / I’m sailing down, along your veins...”, our hero is now flushed away by brooks of phosphorescent blood... “I hear the thunder of a factory / The central engine of the heart appears enormous to me / I can see red Niagara falls swallowing me...”. The rhythm becomes frenzied, the mood dramatic but our “explorer” awakes alive, wet and out of danger because the heart let him break through...

A short interlude leads to the “Cathedral Of Love”... “I’m climbing stairways of placenta / As if by magic I feel a body who is singing for me unknown Ave Marias / Cathedral of Love, cathedral of love / My heart beats fast but I go on...”. Well, the lyrics describing the womb are a little bit bizarre (to say the least!) but the music is really good, here almost mystic I dare say, featuring excellent harmony vocals...


Next track, “Gambe” (Legs), describes the dizziness provoked by a “walking continent” on the streets of a city. “The earth is trembling / New danger / Legs of woman / White vertigo... When you walk in the city / It’s like a forest / That goes in a desert of concrete...”. Here the rhythm rises sprinkled with flashes of moog, then melts into a nice short pastoral interlude (the instrumental “Suite relativa”).

Monti e valli” (Mountains and Valleys) is a bright, happy ballad and the subject matter is, as you can guess, the bosom... “I see pyramids and coliseums... Mountains and valleys of the youth / My hands are caressing you / Like ocean waves / My fingers are like horses breaking into gallop upon you...”.

Next comes the delicate, sweet “I sogni” (The dreams) that tries to describe in music and words the dreams of a woman as the souvenirs of a childhood, the nightmares of the war, the wounds of past lovers that consciousness tries to hide. “I dream your dreams...”. In my opinion this is the best track on this album.


The next track “La notte” (The night) tries to describe the act of procreation. Tense vocals soar over a beautiful piano pattern counter pointed by the sound of the moog... The poetry of the lyrics is perhaps a little bit clumsy and naive but the overall result is not so bad.

Sintesi” is a reprise of the opening theme and it concludes a particular, interesting album... “Woman poetry / You are a miracle of rhythm and harmony / You are the most fragile fortress on earth / You resist the world but love will open you / And from the country of your body new lives will blossom / Until life will be...”.

I don’t think that this is an essential album but it is a very good one and it would have deserved a better destiny. On the whole I think that this work is more ironic than pretentious, as the funny art cover, and it’s really worth listening to. It was re-released on CD in 2003 by BMG with a nice paper sleeve reproducing the original LP jacket and I’m sure that Italian prog lovers will love it... 

 

Saturday, 28 February 2015

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

Pollution is Franco Battiato's second album and was released in 1973 on the independent label Bla Bla Records. During the recording sessions Franco Battiato took charge of vocals and synthesizers and the line up was completed by Gianni Mocchetti (bass, vocals), Gianfranco D'Adda (drums, percussion), Roberto Cacciapaglia (synthesizer, piano) and Mario "Ellepi" Dalla Stella (guitars, vocals). This album, as its predecessor Fetus, features a provocative art work by Italian graphic artist and cultural agitateur Gianni Sassi. The inner sleeve contains a picture of the band with Gianni Sassi and his wife and the mysterious copy of a manifesto of an imaginary agency, the International Centre of Magnetic Studies, announcing an experiment that would have switched off for twenty-four hours all the internal combustion engines circulating in Italy...

art cover

As you can guess the content of the music and lyrics involves environmental issues and a poignant criticism against the industrialized world. Anyway, despite the subject matter, this is probably the most easy and accessible album of Franco Battiato's "prog period". Here all the tracks are bound together and form a long suite with recurring themes holding it together. The opener "Il silenzio del rumore" (The silence of the noise) begins by the echoes of a Viennese waltz by Strauss, then comes Battiato's recitative voice that in some way tries to wake you up from a sleepy, passive life-style characterized by addiction to noise and where people don't think with their own head and can't perceive the importance of being free and independent... "Have you ever been wondering / What is your function?". A "percussive" rhythm guitar and a church organ follow and lead to the sonic explosion of "31 dicembre 1999 - ore 9", just a few seconds of musique concrete. In the aftermath the sound of keyboards introduces the theme of the following "Areknames", that goes on with strange vocals and "experimental" lyrics written in "reverse style" (for example Areknames = Se mancherà). 


It leads to "Beta", where you can listen to sound effects and recitative vocals that conjure up a "mystical mood" while the piano plays some notes of the previous theme. The lyrics are based upon the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. In the novel, from birth, people are genetically designed to fit into one of five castes, which are further split into 'Plus' and 'Minus' members and designed to fulfil predetermined positions within the social and economic strata of the World State. Fetuses chosen to become members of the highest castes, 'Alpha' and 'Beta', are allowed to develop naturally and are given stimulants while maturing to term in 'decanting bottles'. Fetuses chosen to become members of the lower castes of 'Gamma', 'Delta' or 'Epsilon' are subjected to in situ chemical interference to cause arrested development in intelligence and physical growth. Here we can listen for a moment to the voice of a happy Beta, interpreted by Franco Battiato with poignant irony. A short orchestral passage taken from a symphonic poem by Smetana ends the first side of the original Lp while a question arises... "Inside of me some micro organisms live my identical life without knowing that they belong to my body / I, what body do I belong to ?".

inner sleeve

The second side of the original album is divided into three tracks. The first is the dark, surreal "Plancton" that describes in music a words a kind of evolution in reverse, a regression from the human form to the shape of a strange sea creature. Hands become scales, hair become algae... Then a weird "space tarantella" passage leads on a solitary beach where you can hear the sound of the waves... Here you can listen to a nice, dreamy melody and to a strummed acoustic guitar, then soaring vocals evoke formulas used in physics and engineering, fluids dynamics and hydrometry... In fact, on the next track, "Pollution", the music and lyrics conjure up magnetic fields and expanding gas in a world formed by atoms and molecules that follow the rules of physics. The melancholic instrumental "Ti sei mai chiesto che funzione hai?" (Have you ever been wondering what is your function?) ends the album mixing regretful laments and whining with echoes of classical music. It seems to forecast a gloomy fate for a human race victim of his knowledge and technology...


Franco Battiato: Pollution (1973). Other opinions:
Michael Berry: A step forward here? oh yes.. take an afternoon and listen to his albums chronologically. Fetus was mainly a showcase and a first draft if you will for Battiato and his minimalist aspirations for composition and instrumentation. His VCS3 was the 'star' of the album... other instruments were mainly for texture other than the violin of Cariocinesi. Here, both compositionally and of curse in instrumentation Battiato has stepped forward... A wonderful album with some POWERFUL moments and I find the contrast this album represents fascinating. Highly recommended and may be the best place for new fans of Battiato to start... (read the complete review HERE)
Jim Russell: This is pure RPI (in spirit, if not in peer conformity) with all of the experimental flair so common in the genre, influenced by spacey English psych and Krautrock I would guess. Battiato's first three albums are all very high quality but different enough to make each essential listening for RPI fans in search of a deep collection. He is certainly more eccentric and weird than the symphonic giants like Orme, so if you are an RPI noob, be warned he may take some getting used to. But if you like outlandish sounds and trippy aural festivities, Battiato will not disappoint you... (read the complete review HERE)

Sunday, 22 February 2015

SICKLE, HAMMER AND GUNS


Area had been one of he most important bands of the Italian prog scene of the seventies. Their debut album, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, was released in 1973 on Cramps with a line-up featuring Demetrio Stratos (vocals, organ), Patrizio Fariselli (piano, keyboards) Giulio Capiozzo (drums), Patrick Djivas (bass), Paolo Tofani (guitar, synthesizers) and Victor Eduard Busnello (sax and reeds). The musicians came from different experiences and the overall sound of the band was an incredible and “revolutionary” cocktail of influences ranging from Mediterranean folk to free jazz and rock, always characterized by a strong political commitment. Their producer and advisor Gianni Sassi, co-founder of the independent label Cramps, took care of the lyrics and of the art cover and could be considered a kind of guru for the band, almost an additional member. Thanks to him the band could meet and collaborate with some exponents of the artistic avant-garde as John Cage. Area’s music is challenging and never banal, the lyrics are strong and in some way shocking but never vulgar...


The “explosive” opener “Luglio, agosto, settembre (nero)” (July, August, black September) deals with the Palestinian issue and terrorism and was inspired by the Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics. It’s a seminal, controversial track, but it’s not exactly a song against terrorism. It begins with female narrative vocals in Arab (1). “Forget your rage / Forget your pain / Drop your weapons / Come with me my darling / Come with me, let’s live / Our cover will be the peace...” (2). Then, on a progression of organ chords the particular voice of Demetrio Stratos soars describing the horror of powerful politicians playing dangerous games and the consequences of their acts... “To play with the world / Smashing it into pieces / Children that the sun / Has already turned into old men...”. Then follows a section inspired by a Balkan melody where the vocals state the refusal of resignation and of an unbearable peace that is the equivalent of submission... “It’s not my fault if your reality / Compels me to move war to this guilty silence / Perhaps one day we will know / What it means / To drown in the blood the whole humankind... Read in history all my pain / Look at my people / Who do not want to die... It’s not my fault if your reality / Compels me to move war against humankind...”. A chaotic section follows before a more melodic part and an instrumental reprise of the previous “Balkan” melody. In the early seventies Area supported the extreme left wing Italian movements that were characterized by strong anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. In the lyrics what prevails is a feeling of empathy with terrorists. Times have changed and today former members of Area point out that they are now against every form of violence but also that the problems generating the hate leading to terrorist attacks are not solved. To complement comprehension of this track I could suggest seeing Seven Spielberg’s film “Munich”...


Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes you free) is a track against capitalism. In the booklet you can see a picture which portrays an elegant businessman with the head of a bird of prey and the words “Arbeit macht frei”. This slogan was placed at the entrances of a number of Nazi concentration camps but here it could refer to modern factories where workers are employed on assembly lines and treated as slaves. The piece opens with a drum solo and experimental sounds, then a repetitive bass pattern comes in. Try to imagine Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times” while listening to the frantic rhythm section and to the sax evolutions... “In your miseries you will recognize / The meaning of an Arbeit macht frei / Bleak economy, daily humility / Always push you towards an Arbeit macht frei / Awareness will make you see / One more time / What is Arbeit macht frei...”.


Consapevolezza” (Awareness) is a dramatic call to revolution. Jazz rock and exotic atmospheres lead to a hypnotic rhythm pattern from where suggestive vocals soar inviting you to take a lift and go up in the sky, open your eyes and see what’s happening on earth... “You will see all the bleak reality... All the love reduced to nothing... Smash merciless against the wall / Your morality that wants to keep you imprisoned among mediocrities... Start up and take power!”.

Le labbra del tempo” (The lips of time) is another great, complex track featuring jazz and Mediterranean suggestions where the voice of Demetrio Stratos is perfectly at ease. It’s an obscure reflection about life, time and the need to fight for your rights overcoming fears and superstitions... “Inside me / I feel that a deaf rage is rising...”.


240 chilometri da Smirne” (240 kilometres from Izmir) is an instrumental jazz rock track where all the musicians are allowed to showcase their great musicianship.

The last track, “L’abbattimento dello Zeppelin” (The shooting down of the Zeppelin), is conceived as a criticism against the music business and depicts conceited, haughty bands flying through the sky swollen by the wind, drunk with power. Here the vocals are ironic and theatrical... “Everyone says that it’s my fault / Everyone plays with the body deflated by the wind / That has no memory / Everyone says that it’s my fault / The wind says that I will die...”.

(1) In the booklet they say that the voice was “stolen from a Museum in Cairo” although some other sources say that the voice was that of an Arab girl, a strip-tease dancer who used to work in Milan near the studios where the album was recorded. See D. CODUTO, Il libro degli Area, Auditorium, Milano, 2005, p. 70
(2) I found the translation from Arab to Italian on the forum of the site www.arlequins.it


You can listen to the complete album HERE