After some singles in a melodic, commercial style, in 1972 Franco Battiato took a more challenging musical direction for his first full length album on Bla Bla Records blending Italian melody with experimental electronic sounds. The result is “Fetus”, a concept album written in collaboration with Sergio Albergoni and producer Pino Massara and recorded with the help of a team of skilled musicians featuring, among others, Gianfranco D'Adda, Gianni Mocchetti and Sergio Almangano. According to the liner notes, this album is “completely dedicated” to Aldous Huxley and his works, in particular to Brave New World, a novel which anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and operant conditioning that combine to profoundly change society. It's subtitled “Ritorno al mondo nuovo” (Return To The New World) and features a provocative, controversial art work by Gianni Sassi.
The opener “Fetus” is a short track in three parts that begins just by vocals and sound effects evoking the heart-beat. The lyrics depict the feelings of a baby who slowly takes shape in his mother's womb... “I wasn't born yet / And I could already feel the heart-beat / Even before my birth / I could feel that I was born without love...”. On the instrumental middle section synthesizers come in describing the mystery of life flowing in the veins of fate, then an acoustic guitar arpeggio introduces an almost mystical atmosphere.
The following “Una cellula” (A cell) features a dreamy mood while the lyrics conjure up images from a future where time gets blurred... “My cells will change and my body will have a new life... We will travel around the sun, faster than light / As time-machines against the will of Time...”.
“Cariocinesi” (Mitosis) is a strange, swinging track that every now and again reminds me of the Quintette du Hot Club de France of Stephan Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. The music and lyrics describe in a surreal way the magic of the process by which a cell, which has previously replicated each of its chromosomes, separates the chromosomes in its cell nucleus into two identical sets of chromosomes, each set in its own new nucleus, a process that is maybe blind or just “enlightened by a memory without past...”. But beware! Chance can alter the process leading to unpredictable effects.
“Energia” (Energy) begins with the voice of some little children in the background and the reprise of the theme of the middle section of the title track. Then Franco Battiato's vocals come in and draw some reflections about the role of chance in the reproductive process... “I have had many women in my life / And in every room I left some of my energy... If a child would be aware that he was born by chance among thousands of occasions / He would understand all the dreams that life can give / And he would live with joy all those illusions...”.
“Fenomenologia” (Phenomenology) begins with a strummed acoustic guitar and a dreamy mood... “My mental action is uncertain / The voice is marble and concrete / I live in spite of myself / It’s hard to get the control / There’s fog around my eyes / The outlines are getting blurred / I’ve already forgotten my dimension / Unknown forces are tearing me from myself...”. Then a second part follows introduced by strange percussion patterns while the vocals repeat the DNA formula. The track ends with a reprise of the third part of the title track
“Meccanica” (Mechanics) is darker and begins with synthesizers in the forefront that bring a sense of tension. Then an acoustic section follows and the music and lyrics depict a laboratory where the genes of love are manipulated to shape a new form of life featuring mechanical eyes and brain, a plastic heart and a synthetic taste. On the final section you can hear the voices of the astronauts of the Apollo 11 and Bach's “Air on a G string”.
Next comes the ethereal “Anafase” (Anaphase). Anaphase is the stage of mitosis or meiosis when chromosomes are split and the sister chromatids move to opposite poles of the cell, but in this case the lyrics and music conjure up an interstellar journey. Some spaceships take off towards the immensity - Will man colonize new planets?
The conclusive “Mutazione” (Mutation) seems to suggest the answer for the previous question... “Millennia of sleep have cradled me and now I'm back / Something has changed / I can't see any signal of life / Nonetheless I can feel it / The are some vibrations / I can't say what my eyes are going to see / Perhaps some bodies of stone / I feel them coming...”.
Well, on the whole an interesting album with a concept half-way between science-fiction and spiritualism!
You can listen in streaming to the complete album HERE
Franco Battiato: Fetus (1972). Other opinions:
Jim Russell: Despite the less-than-appealing cover art, "Fetus" is one charming piece of work. It is true that it is less realized than his coming albums, perhaps more scattershot, and yet I find it is probably the one I enjoy playing the most. It's a collage work mixing symphonic, psych, traditional Italian pop, avant-garde, minimalism, and electronic sound... As for what "Fetus" delivers to the listeners, the songs are short and sweet, built upon the combination of Battiato's VCS3, voice, and the acoustic guitar. The eerie warbles of the VCS3 are handled masterfully, and even if occasionally cheesy by today's standards they are often evocative and haunting in their strangeness. The embellishments in the form of violin, swelling organ washes, light/minimal percussion, Bach samples, and sound effects keep each track very rich and interesting... (read the complete review HERE)