When I went to check our website’s pipeline of albums available for review a few weeks ago, I certainly wasn’t expecting to see the masters of 1970s rock progressivo italiano (RPI) Banco del Mutuo Soccorso show up, especially since their iconic frontman Francesco Di Giacomo – and his legendary voice – died 8 years ago in a car accident. To my surprise, this isn’t even their first album since the start of their new chapter, as it follows 2019’s Transiberiana featuring the same line-up. With giddy joy I instantly requested to review the album.
But, hold on; don’t albums by fifty-year-old groups tend to be rather disappointing? Judging by much of the output by archaic prog groups over the last decade, the answer is in the positive. As I stared down this fifteen-track album and its 76-minute runtime, I braced myself for the worst…
… and to my astonishment I was greeted with some pretty great music! After the thematic introductory track Proemio, the band gets into full swing with the thoroughly prog La Pianura Rossa. With polyrhythms, solos and even different vocals to symbolise different characters in the story, it’s quite the showcase for the new group’s talent.
Only keyboardist Vittorio Nocenzi connects this incarnation of Banco with the more well-known ’70s version; the new talent features former X Factor contestant Tony D’Alessio and the ex-drummer for the 2000s incarnations of Metamorfosi (the band, not the Banco song) Fabio Moresco. It has to be said that, without Di Giacomo, the band sound almost unrecognisable, but D’Alessio delivers a solid performance, if perhaps a little flat compared to his predecessor. The band also makes use of new technology to evolve their sound, even playing with autotune on occasion, but never stray too far from their prog roots.
Orlando: Le Forme dell’Amore (‘the shapes of love’) is a concept album that coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of Banco’s first two albums, their eponymous debut and the subsequent concept album Darwin!. It has nothing to do with Disney World, or indeed anything Floridian: Orlando takes its inspiration from a 16th Century epic poem Orlando Furioso, which also inspired Banco’s very first song on their debut album Il Volo – it’s satisfying when artists pay attention to their history and make these kind of connections. The lyrics are in Italian, but are translated into English in the liner notes – with 76-minutes worth of music to interpret, however, I didn’t find the energy to read them myself. At any rate, RPI is so much more fun because you don’t know what is being sung, or you only have a vague idea; I have a theory that most music would sound better if it were sung in Italian, which is confirmed by many Italian covers of pop tunes.
The album’s length, however, does prove to be too long to be sustainable; 76 minutes is the length of a double LP and the quality of the material doesn’t quite justify it. The album periodically alternates between slower songs and progressive workouts; on the eleven-minute Moon Suite this even happens in the same track! The more laid-back tunes aren’t bad, per se, and add some weight and maturity to this concept album, but they aren’t what I come back for; I’m much more impressed by the proggy sections that appear frequently from the Supertramp-esque sax-drenched outro to Non Credere Alla Luna to the frenetic ¾ intro to Moon Suite – which happens to come straight after!
This is a far better effort than I was expecting from this ageing group, the form of the salvadanaio (the terracotta piggy bank that was seen on the group’s debut album) acting as a stamp of quality on this fine concept album. While one would be foolish to expect it to live up to the band’s golden era – featuring some of the very best progressive rock of all time – Banco have shown that they still have what it takes to produce tasteful prog in the 21st Century.
01. Proemio (2:10)
02. La Pianura Rossa (6:39)
03. Serve Orlando Adesso (4:11)
04. Non Mi Spaventa Più L’amore (4:11)
05. Non Serve Tremare (4:07)
06. Le Anime Deserte Del Mondo (4:43)
07. L’isola Felice (4:00)
08. La Maldicenza (6:06)
09. Cadere O Volare (5:06)
10. Il Paladino (2:52)
11. L’Amore Accade (3:42)
12. Non Credere Alla Luna (6:56)
13. Moon Suite (11:05)
14. Come È Successo Che Sei Qui (3:29)
15. Cosa Vuol Dire Per Sempre (6:45)
Total Time – 75:56
Vittorio Nocenzi – Keyboards
Filippo Marcheggiani – Guitar
Tony D’Alessio – Vocals
Nicola Di Già – Guitar
Marco Capozi – Bass
Fabio Moresco – Drums
Unidentified Woman – Vocals (on L’Amore Accade)
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Italy
Release Date: 23rd September 2022