BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO: COME IN UN'ULTIMA CENA (1976)
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.