Franco Battiato


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Dedicated to the Centro Internazionale Studi Magnetici, Battiato's second album starts with an elegant orchestra and chatter of partygoing guests -- a bit like the start of Roxy Music's debut record only with an even more rarified atmosphere. But with the sudden intrusion of his spoken-word vocals, which fade into the mix before an explosion heralds the arrival of his own backing band, things take a nicely different turn. Pollution is proudly prog-oriented if more than a little derivative, able to draw comparison from everything to Ash Ra Tempel's drive and Faust's humor to majestic (and apparently intentionally ridiculous at points) keyboard fanfares that might make Rick Wakeman jealous. There's something wonderfully lively about it all, though, that saves it from the crushing boredom so much pseudo-deep slop suffered from during the same time period. Even songs that conjure up familiar listening experiences -- "Beta" has a similar pace to mid-'70s Pink Floyd easygoing jams -- add a little something extra, in this case heavily processed wordless vocals swirling around the mix. Battiato's reliance on keyboards -- besides himself, three backing band members play some sort of synth as well -- gives Pollution an extreme electronic edge; even when things are more conventionally rock, everything feels that much more eerie and truly spaced-out. "Areknames," with its recurrent synth/trumpet melody, persistent two-note loop, and surprising, intriguing vocal arrangements, is the easiest track to get one's head around, with a hook one can at least carry away from the experience. Elsewhere, a listener just needs to let the experience take hold as Battiato's freeform lyrics and keyboard swoops and swells herald song introductions or just exist in their own mysterious worlds. Pollution also scores with some moments of sheer beauty in and of themselves -- the introduction of "Plancton," with acoustic guitar and keyboards in slow, haunting combination, makes for a lovely start to an intriguing tune.

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