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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso: Banco


BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO: BANCO (1975)

1) Chorale (From Traccia Theme); 2) L'Albero Del Pane; 3) Metamorphosis; 4) Outside; 5) Leave Me Alone; 6) Nothing's The Same; 7) Traccia II.

I am not sure if Banco, the band's first English-language album, had any serious merit in putting the band on the international market — chart information is missing (and it probably didn't chart anyway), and, besides, by 1975 popular interest in progressive rock was already waning a bit, so it is highly unlikely that the release of Banco on Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Manticore label made even a tiny handful of people aware of the existence of the fine Italian team. Regardless, though, even if Banco were to break them through internationally, it should by no means be al­lowed to go on serving as anybody's introduction to the band.

The very idea is ridiculous — «prog» audiences are generally expected to be more open towards other languages and cultures than «pop» audiences, and how's that sound anyway? «Oh no, not me, I only listen to ten-minute suites with weird time signatures and unpredictable chord changes if the lyrics are in English, otherwise it's a bit too complicated for me». Not to mention, of course, that, with certain reservations, the language of music transcends national boundaries by definition, whereas singing — and emoting — in a non-native language might be a fairly risky business.

In particular, while I personally do not care too much for DiGiacomo as the band's lead singer, there is no denying that he is a perfect natural — raised on the Italian opera / pop tradition and everything. The same style, transposed on the phonetic and verbal structures of English, at best, sounds forced, and at worst, embarrassing. Granted, DiGiacomo does his best to camouflage the proverbial Italian accent, but it still isn't good enough, certainly not on ʽLeave Me Aloneʼ (ʽNon Mi Rompeteʼ), which has no business whatsoever being sung in English with carefully preserved Italian intonations. This is not-ta too good-duh.

Furthermore, it just does not look like the band was too happy about doing this conversion. Sur­prisingly enough, they went to the trouble of actually re-recording all the tracks, maybe because they'd lost the mastertapes and were unable to wipe DiGiacomo's vocals off the originals (the completely instrumental ʽTraccia IIʼ is the only number here that has been directly carried over), but the re-recordings never reach the same level of power and enthusiasm — and they also go much easier on the electric guitar (played by new band member Rodolfo Maltese, replacing Mar­cello Todaro) and seriously heavier on synthesizers, which is not to my liking at all.

Finally, what's up with the idea of re-recording the old stuff anyway? I am not that much of a fan to spend lots of time comparing the old ʽMetamorfosiʼ with the new ʽMetamorphosisʼ, and thus, only the first six minutes of the album are of relative interest: ʽChoraleʼ, subtitled ʽFrom Traccia Themeʼ, is an atmospheric «look-how-impressively-we-synthesize-church-organ-effects» com­position that has nothing to do with either the original ʽTracciaʼ or ʽTraccia IIʼ (all three could have been constituents of a single dismembered multi-part suite, though), and ʽL'Albero Del Pa­neʼ (ʽThe Bread Treeʼ) is an uplifting, dynamic anthem built on the conjunction of ferocious acoustic strum and a sea of romantic synthesizer joy. I suppose that both were included mainly to provide the Italian sector of the market with an incentive to buy the album.

As things are, the album seems to be generally out of print today, and for a good reason. Nobody really needs to understand what the band is singing about — the finest musical masterpieces re­quire the listener to supply his own images and interpretations, and once the frontman starts bat­tling with a foreign accent, all images and interpretations start deteriorating accordingly. A curi­ous document indeed — but, even though ʽL'Albero Del Paneʼ is salvageable, it is hardly enough to save the album from a decisive thumbs down. Recommended to avoid, even if found in a used bin (or, more likely, in some forgotten dusty container that accidentally did not make it onto the Rome – New York flight).

7 comments:

  1. This album is based on exactly the same idea as PFM's "Photos of Ghosts". What exactly makes it much worse?

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    1. I think both this album and Photos of Ghosts are wastes of time more or less. The originals were fantastic in their own right, the English versions merely serve to make the songs sound worse and the Italian accent sounds silly singing anything but Italian. So why bother?
      I find it kind of odd that Banco goes out of print while PoG seems to generally be well-regarded. It's the same trick! I suppose it had more to do with the fact that the PFM album was somewhat commercially successful in the first place.

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    2. Curiously enough, Banco *is* available on iTunes in America, but not Darwin! or any other album; just search under "Banco"—but not the band's full name, or you'll probably get nothing.

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  2. My take on the need for rerecordings: As you yourself noted, they had a new guitarist in the ranks. The tracks were, therefore, probably completely rerecorded so as to avoid heavily featuring past members at the expense of new members. I use the word "expense" advisedly: royalties for performance, etc.

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  3. George, I was delighted that you decided to review Banco's output, even after your disappointment in PFM (Q: why were they the most known Itailan band abroad? A: they were, of course, highly derivative). But I feel you should really at least give a thought thìo the one Italian Seventies band that should be part of the big book of rock history: Area (http://www.allmusic.com/artist/area-mn0000602307).
    A good place to start is their first album, freely available on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUg6keKtJc4 (yes, it DOES begin with 45 seconds of Arabic prayer. It was 1973...)

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    1. Well, the nice thing of GS' current format is that we can discuss anything we like until GS tells us to stop. So here we go.
      Area's debut is an utter bore, with lots of aimless noodling set over fairly simple, but completely unrelated themes.

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  4. Nothing wrong with this "Anglo-Saxon" output. I'd rather listen to this album anytime/anywhere than the boring "prog-academia" Anglagard dogma.

    There's a remastered release available on Amazon. Don't avoid if you're about getting into Banco.

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