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Franco Battiato - Sulle Corde Di Aries CD (album) cover


Franco Battiato


Rock Progressivo Italiano

4.09 | 111 ratings

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RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
5 stars Possibly the most eclectic, innovative artist on the Italian pop/rock scene, Sicilian-born Franco Battiato, like many of his contemporaries, started his long career in the early Seventies, when the boot-shaped peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea was swept by a wave of musical creativity inspired by the British progressive rock movement, but not entirely rooted in it. The ancient island of Sicily possesses a rich cultural tradition, where north and south, east and west comfortably meet and influence each other, and Battiato's music is the living embodiment of this archetypal 'melting pot'. Even his poppier Eighties songs are brimming with references to the heady exoticism of the Middle East and India, or the melancholy, decadent milieu of Central Europe before WWI. Similarly, he is not averse to interspersing his songs with verses sung in foreign languages, adding a note of mystery to an already intriguing combination. His erudite, thought-provoking lyrics draw upon a vast body of knowledge, not solely limited to the western world - philosophy, mythology, religion, literature, art, all is fair game for Battiato, the man who brought multiculturalism to Italy way before the current wave of immigration.

Released in 1973, at the height of the popularity of prog rock in Italy and elsewhere, Sulle corde di Aries is in every way a quantum leap from Battiato's first two albums, the interesting but somewhat immature Fetus and Pollution. Even if for today's standards it is a very short recording (a bit over 30 minutes in length), its four tracks pack an aural and emotional wallop that much longer offerings can only dream of achieving. The 16-minute-plus electronic tour-de-force that is Sequenze e frequenze opens with haunting strains of synths and wind instruments, which only hint at what is to come - then Battiato's filtered voice kicks in, a voice miles away from the big, dramatic vocals so characteristic of RPI bands ( la Francesco Di Giacomo). Somewhat thin and reedy, with a heavy Sicilian accent, it is however perfectly, exquisitely modulated, and strongly redolent of the Middle East - almost reminiscent of a muezzin's call. The few lines that make up the song are incredibly evocative in a visual sense... When he sings 'ogni tanto passava una nave' (every now and then a ship passed), in my mind's eye I can see a ship slowly moving over the horizon in a hazy summer's day. Such is the power of Battiato's music... Then, the track turns into an orgy of eerie, trippy sounds wrung out of a VC3 S, overlaid by the hypnotic, lilting beat of a kalimba - almost nothing else. Very simple, even minimalistic, but at the same time extremely powerful, in a way that so much electronic music can rarely achieve.

Aries, which introduces what used to be the B side of the album, is a mostly instrumental track with a stronger avant-garde vibe, featuring somewhat harsh saxophone and 'galloping' percussion beats. An excellent piece of music indeed, but in my opinion not as successful as the remaining two tracks. In both, Battiato's distinctive singing style is pushed to the fore, enhancing their already considerable musical interest. Aria di rivoluzione paints a picture of Europe in the years between the two world wars - the Italian lyrics reference the Abyssinian war, while the German ones (courtesy of Wolf Biermann, spoken by Analogy's Jutta Nienhaus in a deep, almost sensual tone) mention Hitler and Stalin. The juxtaposition of two such different languages, of the singing and the spoken word (a strategy that Battiato would further pursue in his career), adds depth and interest to what is the most melodic offering on the album. Finally, Da Oriente a Occidente is the closest the record gets to world music (as the title fittingly states), with Battiato's chanting vocals skillfully backed by two sopranos, and a beautiful, mandolin-laden, folky coda.

I saw Battiato performing live in the early Eighties, when he was on his way to becoming much more than the cult artist he had been for years. I entered the theatre as a sceptic, and came out as a convert... Though I cannot count myself as a full-fledged fan, I have the utmost respect for this unique musician, who at least for a time brought something genuinely new to the staid Italian pop scene, showing that there was a whole musical world to be explored beyond the established tradition of the opera and the 'canzone'. I will review some of his 'pop' albums at a later date, because I feel they deserve to be discovered and enjoyed by the users of this site, especially those who have some knowledge of the Italian language.

Sulle corde di Aries is undoubtedly one of the absolute masterpieces of Italian prog, and one of the still-undiscovered gems of progressive rock (any subgenre). Even if the album may not be easy to find for people outside Europe (though in Italy it can be found for VERY cheap), I hope this review, and the others before mine, will encourage more people to delve into the music of this amazing artist.

Finally... My five-star review is dedicated to ProgArchives' biggest fan of this album, who also happens to be my beloved husband.

Raff | 5/5 |


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