Franco Battiato

Fleurs 2

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Franco Battiato has stated that Fleurs 2 will be the last installment of his non-sequential cover album trilogy, after 1999's Fleurs and 2001's Fleurs 3. It might as well be so, since what started as an intimate tribute is beginning to lose its charm. Many in Italy were extremely critical of Fleurs 2, deeming it a trifle unworthy of an artist of Battiato's stature -- not to mention an opportunistic commercial venture, released just in time for the holiday season. True, the Fleurs series is worlds apart from Battiato's typically demanding (if not downright hermetic) music. Once again, Battiato chooses a list of his personal favorite Italian, French, and English pop songs -- some well known, some obscure -- and sets them to delicate chamber music arrangements. The results are eminently tasteful, and hardly innovative. Still, what seems to hurt this record more for Battiato fans is the law of diminishing returns: he has been there before, and done it better. On the other hand, those unfamiliar with his previous work may find Fleurs 2 a rather exquisitely assembled collection -- with a few flagrant duds, granted, but also with several deeply moving moments. For one thing, Fleurs 2 features five stellar duets with an A-list of international vocalists: Carmen Consoli, Antony, Anne Ducros, Sepideh Raissadat, and Juri Camisasca. English-speaking audiences may be naturally curious about hearing Antony harmonize with Battiato in an Italian version of the rare B-side "Frankenstein," here renamed "Del Suo Veloce Volo" with completely changed lyrics -- and still as haunting as every Antony and the Johnsons song inevitably is. Fleurs 2's true masterpiece, however, is the opening track, "Tutto l'Universo Obbedisce All'amore," sung with Carmen Consoli. Not coincidentally, this humbly majestic love song is the only new Battiato original. There is no question that Battiato is a better composer than performer. It is precisely because of this that some of his choices seem rather inappropriate, such as the challenging standards "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Battiato's insistence on singing in English and French is particularly puzzling, when his diction can be almost embarrassing at times. When he sings in Italian, it is a completely different matter: he can be a genuinely affecting vocalist, as this album eloquently illustrates. In sum, an uneven collection that is as pleasant a listen as it is oddly unrepresentative of one of Italy's most cerebral songwriters.

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