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Franco Battiato - Fetus CD (album) cover


Franco Battiato


Rock Progressivo Italiano

3.43 | 67 ratings

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3 stars Franco Battiato's 40-year career spans Eurovision, opera, painting and filmmaking, although back in the day he toured with the likes of Eno and Ash Ra Tempel. His debut album doesn't follow the well-trodden RPI path (not that I believe such a thing exists, literally or figuratively), but is instead a pioneering mix of pop and experimental electronic music. Taking its musical cue from Messrs Stockhausen and Glass, ''Fetus'' is a minimalist concept album about the life of a foetus. The album mainly consists of Battiato and his VCS3, and at little over 30-minutes it's briefer than a pair of 007's budgie smugglers.

From the opening foray of the title-track it's clear that Battiato eschews traditional song structures and is economical with his use of textures. The sound of a heartbeat and some tentative vocals lead into a repeating synthesizer phrase that increases in intensity, which finally reaches an anti-climax of acoustic guitar and hummed vocals. These will be recurring themes throughout the album as the synthesizer phrase and wordless vocals interpenetrate several of the other songs. ''Una Cellula'' is simpler in structure and was in fact released as a single, coupled with ''Energia'', and shows that Battiato could knock-out catchy melodies as easily as he could knock-up his groupies.

So, tracks one and two are tickety boo, but then out of the left field comes the incongruous ''Cariocinesi'', featuring lively jazz violin in the style of Stephane Grappelli. On the subject of Stephane Grappelli, he apparently recorded a solo on the title-track of ''Wish You Were Here'' although it's so far down in the mix as to be inaudible. Back to Battiato, and babbling bouncing babies and gurgling electronics on ''Energia'' herald the first reiteration of the synthesizer theme from ''Fetus''. A brief but unnerving silence ensues before a synthesizer drone and vocals (with Battiato sounding remarkably like Le Orme's Aldo Tagliapietra) culminate in pounding toms and a glorious melody that reminds me of Fleet Foxes! ''Fenomenologia'' is the low-lying fruit of the album, being mostly a boozy, bluesy acoustic number with a reprise of the ''Fetus'' hummed vocals.

The forward-looking musical montage of ''Meccanica'' starts off sounding like a deranged ''In The Hall Of the Mountain King'' before acoustic guitar, violin, drum-machine and finally organ take over. This is interspersed with the ''Fetus'' synthesizer theme and heavenly choir, before the song finishes with a sequence that consists of the broadcast of the Buzz and Neil moon landing underpinned by a J. S. Bach air. Go figure. ''Anafase'' is seemingly equally random; ranging from its acoustic beginnings to its Morse code sound effects, from music that waxes and wanes for no apparent reason to a loud piano explosion, and to weird sound effects that make me feel like a microbial-me is on a ''Fantastic Voyage'' with Raquel Welch! Then there's a final reprise of the bluesy guitar and hummed vocals passage from earlier. My description of this couplet probably makes it sound like a musical pig's ear but these two songs together form the centrepiece of the album and are hard act to follow.

However, it's not over till the last man is brought to the surface and ''Mutazione'', featuring some rare electric guitar, provides an evocative and strangely uplifting conclusion to the album. In spite of its primitive electronics and ropey production, ''Fetus'' is an enduring work and is essential listening at least for the RPI diehards out there. Now back to Raquel...

seventhsojourn | 3/5 |


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