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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso: Come In Un'Ultima Cena


1) ...A Cena, Per Esempio; 2) Il Ragno; 3) E Così Buono Giovanni, Ma...; 4) Slogan; 5) Si Dice Che I Delfini Par­lino; 6) Voilà Mida (Il Guaritore); 7) Quando La Buona Gente Dice...; 8) La Notte E Piena; 9) Fino Alla Mia Porta.

Since this is not a soundtrack no longer, but rather a good old concept album, loosely (very loosely) based around the theme of the Last Supper, with DiGiacomo returning to his normal place as band frontman, initial hopes of getting another Io Sono Nato Libero are fairly high. But alas, as it turns out after a few listens, the main problem of Garofano Rosso was not in being a soundtrack — incredible as it may seem, the band simply started running out of fresh ideas and basic energy, and Ultima Cena continues that process.

It is still essential for the fans, since at this point, the band does not yet show any signs of «com­mercializing» their sound. Technically, we are still dealing with the same old Banco: a complex fusion of classical, jazz, rock, pop, and «San Remo» influences, formally unpredictable at every turn and aiming for an equally complex mix of emotional / intellectual reactions. Nor is there any technical sign of «slacking»: the Nocenzi brothers and Rodolfo Maltese give themselves no re­spite, churning out riffs, solos, and tonal experiments a-plenty.

Bad news, though: it no longer works so well, particularly in the context of their earlier successes. Banco's musical themes were never all that «catchy» — their approach to music was more in the classical than in the rock vein — and while it paid off well during the early stages, by 1976 the trick was getting stale. There is hardly anything here that they didn't do better on their first three albums — which is especially ironic considering how much there is: just about every single sty­listic twist, technical move, emotional pass, etc., that they were capable of will be encountered on one or several of the tracks. Everything going on at once — and nothing imprintable.

At first, I was afraid it was just me; then I began to find out that many reviewers had the same feelings — for instance, the All-Music Guide review clearly stated that the album «shows signs of breathlessness», although the reviewer was kind enough to let ʽIl Ragnoʼ (ʽThe Spiderʼ) and ʽSloganʼ off the hook for their «power» and «energy». I wouldn't be capable of the same kind­ness. Sure, ʽIl Ragnoʼ has a steady beat, a heavy bass line, and a distorted guitar riff to keep it going, and the introductory part of ʽSloganʼ tries to be dark and ominous... but none of that goes far enough, or, rather, all of it goes too far: not one of the instrumental parts has enough power to impress on its own, and, when taken together, they cancel out rather than strengthen each other. The cogs are grinding with all the required mechanical precision, but somehow, the clock does not run with the necessary effectiveness.

Some small consolation may be taken in the fact that this time around, the obligatory soft ballads are almost completely stripped of that irritating Italian suaveness — ʽE Così Buonoʼ and ʽLa Notte E Pienaʼ are formed by little acoustic-and-flute patterns that are more in the old baro­que tradition than in the «Mediterranean pop» style, and DiGiacomo's vocals sound much less manne­ristic and affected in that setting. Which is not to say that either one is a musical masterpiece of unprecedented depth and power — only to say that, with their presence, Ultima Cena reaches a consistent standard of «uninterrupted mediocrity»: an album that is bound to delight dogmatic fans of «That Classic Banco Sound», wherever it may be found, but is far more likely to disap­point those who rigidly demand «progress» from their «progressive». Because this here is not progress — this is a classic example of stagnation, and (just as it happened with quite a few other «prog» acts) it may even serve as a weak justification for the band's soon-to-be transition to an unabashedly pop stylistics.

Check "Come In Un'Ultima Cena" (CD) on Amazon


  1. "Banco's musical themes were never all that «catchy» — their approach to music was more in the classical than in the rock vein"
    You don't point out a correlation here, do you? There are truckloads of classical themes which are as catchy as any Lennon/McCartney melody. Indeed Banco never strived to be catchy, but that has a priori nothing to do with their classical influences.
    Even before listening to this album I was ready to assume that the band couldn't achieve the genius of Canto Nomade. Still I think the opener A Cena more than fine to listen to, mainly because of the tasty piano work. DiGiacomo manages to express some melancholy. The guitar part impresses me much less though.
    Il Ragno and Slogan remind me too much of Yes on not a particular good day; at best they are unmemorable.
    I like E Cosi Buono in fact more than any previous ballad of this band.
    The bombastic intro of Si Dice is just cheap pseudoclassical nonsense, immediately followed by rather faceless stuff. Voila is boring; I didn't make it to the end; the expanded tonality simply doesn't make sense. It's aimless. The same would be true for Quando if it weren't so short.
    La Notte has an excellent intro; that's something they haven't done before. The medieval (not so much baroque) pastiche that follows is not that special, but still highly enjoyable.
    Fino has a good energetic intro but oh is that guitar part generic and DiGiacomo's half parlando doesn't work wel either.

    I don't blame Banco too much for not making progress. ELP stagnated after the second album and still wrote some excellent songs and the way Genesis and Yes progressed was not always too sensible.
    So I think there is another problem with this album: the guitarist. In my ears the guitar parts are the weakest - it looks like Marcello Todaro was quite important after all. That possibly explains why I like A Cena, E Cosi Buono and La Notte best. My conclusion is that the band here does transcend mediocrity, but on Voila and Quando hits particlar lows.

  2. It's not only the stagnation and not progressing. It is 'stagnation in 1976'. The overall zeitgeist was changed and time worked against prog as a genre. Anyway, this is much better than the faceless 'Jet Lag' by their counterparts PFM.