BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO: CANTO DI PRIMAVERA (1979)
1) Ciclo; 2) Canto Di Primavera; 3) Sono La Bestia; 4) Niente; 5) E Mi Viene Da Pensare; 6) Inferno Città; 7) Lungo Il Margine; 8) Circobanda.
We are still not quite in the Eighties yet, and this album does not yet have the proper license to be «atrocious». At this point, it looks as if Banco are taking the relatively easy way out — instead of properly selling out, like everybody else, and going for a fully «commercial pop» sound, they are instead becoming a «soft jazz» / «lite fusion» act. Apparently, the experiment of ...Di Terra did not work out to critical or commercial success, so for their next project, they went with something that goes easier on the budget than a full-scale orchestra, and easier on the average listener than a completely instrumental «neo-classical» recording.
The album title is right on the money: the whole thing is a fairly coherent «Spring Song», with mostly bright, sunny, happy melodies, many of them with a «pastoral» flavor (title track, for instance), driven, as usual, by the Nocenzi interplay — the only bad thing about which is that Gianni has completely switched over to new brands of electric pianos and clavinets, so the whole experience has a decidedly «inorganic» flavor to it. Even when they throw in some folky bits, making us dance along to the opening lines of ʽSono La Bestiaʼ, they do it with these rather unsuitable keyboard tones — eventually, who needs to hear those sounds played on stiff electric keyboards when you can listen to Ian Anderson doing the same stuff on real flutes?
Worse, most of the atmospheric textures are tripartite — the annoying electric keyboards set the first layer of melody, the brand new synthesizers set the second one, and the third one is usually provided by Luigi Cinque's echoey saxophone that is not that far removed from the standards soon to be set by Kenny G — smooth, inobtrusive, «melodic», boring to the point that, if you listen to this stuff too intensely for too long, the only cure is to throw on ʽYakety Yakʼ as soon as possible, or you might develop a lifelong incurable hatred for the instrument.
The melodies are not exactly complete throwaways — there is a lot of compositional activity going on here, and from a formal technical point of view, Canto is probably not any less complex than ...Di Terra. But the fact that the boys are not officially «slouching» hardly means anything if there is no exciting dynamics — no rises, no falls, no climaxes, no Sturm-und-Drang, just a lot of key and tempo changes that make the separate pieces about as different from each other as the different blades of grass on that bright green spring meadow they are singing about. Where are the thrills, the chills, the kills, goddammit?
On the other hand, with the exception of the ornamental framework (ʽCicloʼ and ʽCircobandaʼ are two similar-sounding happy-fusion-esque instrumentals that bookmark the record), this is all very much DiGiacomo's show — the relatively short tracks offer full compensation for the man's absence on ...Di Terra. And with that, the San Remo spirit is back as well: every song is full to the brim with flourishing mannerisms, exaggerated sentimentality, beards soaked with artistic tears, and, occasionally, some theatrical martial punch. None of it holds any serious emotional resonance for me, but most of it is done reasonably fine and will always have its fans.
In a certain way, what this reminds me of is a sort of Italian equivalent to Steely Dan's Aja — except that beyond the smooth, seemingly «corny», «easy-listening» surface of Aja there hides a darker, leerier heart (a common thing with Steely Dan), whereas subsequent listens to Canto Di Primavera do not reveal any surprises. I mean, Italian pop (heck, most Italian music from any time period, for that matter) usually bares it all at once, and Banco are no exception — and certainly not when they try to emphasize their «national» side over their «cosmopolitan» ambitions. In the end, the only thing that prevents this ball-o'-blandness from a «thumbs down» is that... well, we are still not quite in the Eighties yet.