Thursday, November 6, 2014

Monsters: Photos of Ghosts

PFM: Per un amico  
PFM: Photos of Ghosts
[purchase Per un amico]
[purchase Photos of Ghosts]

If I had thought of this sooner, and gotten my act together, this would have been a great transition post between “Same Artist, Different Version” and “Monsters.” I didn’t, but I’m going to write about it anyway.

If you have ever heard of an Italian prog-rock band, and you probably haven’t, the band you probably know is Premiata Forneria Marconi, which means Award Winning Marconi Bakery, and is somewhat better known as PFM. (If you have heard of 2 Italian prog-rock bands, you are probably familiar with Acqua Fragile, whose lead singer, Bernardo Lanzetti, a Peter Gabriel sound-alike, spent a couple of years in PFM).

Growing up in the Seventies in suburban New York, my prog-rock pantheon included Genesis, Yes, ELP, Pink Floyd, Renaissance, King Crimson, Jethro Tull and, yes, Kansas. It wasn’t until I got to college and prowled through the WPRB stacks that I found other prog-rockers from around the world. Including PFM. Their early albums, released in Italy and sung in Italian, were on par with the best work from the bands I knew, and had the extra charm of being sung in a language I didn’t understand. (Of course, I had no idea what Jon Anderson was singing about, but at least I could recognize the words).

All of a sudden, though, PFM started singing in English. The band came to the attention of ELP while on tour in Italy, and their common acronymic identity and the quality of the music, led to the Italians being signed to ELP’s Manticore Records. Now, PFM’s first allbum, Storia di un minuto had topped the Italian charts, and their second, Per un amico, was considered a classic of the genre and received exposure all over Europe. But the big bucks could only be made if you sang in English, so the folks at Manticore brought on Peter Sinfeld, whose complex, impressionistic lyrics for King Crimson are either brilliant or insane (or both?), to write new—not translated—English lyrics for the Per un amico songs, which, along with one new song, became the album Photos of Ghosts. It was released in Europe, North America and Japan, and achieved success in its own right. The band released another pair of similar albums L'isola di niente/The World Became the World featuring Sinfeld’s lyrics before jettisoning him and adding Lanzetti on vocals because he spoke fluent English, had a stronger voice, and yeah, sounded like Peter Gabriel. They stopped releasing two versions of albums, shot for more mainstream appeal with Chocolate Kings, failed, and moved into a more fusion sound before fading away in 1987. A decade later, they reformed and continue to record and perform, but have attracted little notice outside of Italy.

You can compare the “Same Artist, Different Versions” of the songs by listening to the two songs provided above. Musically, they are the same, but you get to choose whether you prefer the Italian lyrics (either because you find the sound of the language pleasant, or because you know that they are relatively straightforward lyrics about old friends---at least according to Google Translate), or the typically Sinfieldian English lyrics (Beside a dried up fountain/Lie five dusty tomes/With faded pasted pictures/Of love's reverie.) It is rare that you get such a choice, and you are allowed to like them both—I do. As Yogi Berra probably never said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

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