Francesco De Gregori

(LP - #5032569)

Review by Mariano Prunes

Francesco De Gregori's first three records, as brilliant as they often were, went largely unnoticed. Everything changed with Rimmel, the 1975 release that made him into a pop superstar, and second only to Fabrizio De André as the greatest of Italian cantautori. With a little help from friends such as Lucio Dalla, De Gregori expanded his singer/songwriter compositions into full-blown pop songs. Accordingly, the spare acoustic guitar that dominated his previous albums is replaced by band arrangements, with the central role given over to piano and organ. Certainly, the addition of keyboards, drums, backing vocals, electric bass, and studio effects made the record much more radio- and concert-friendly, but the secret of Rimmel's triumph lies in its concise yet uniformly brilliant set of songs. Every De Gregori greatest-hits collection includes at least half of this album's nine tracks. In fact, it is hard to think of any other album by any Italian artist that brings together so many songs destined to become standards of modern Italian pop music. It is also this record that started the accusations leveled at De Gregori of selling out his left-wing beliefs for commercial success, by committing the ultimate sin of writing love songs. While in retrospect this appears as utter insanity, it is testimony to the charged climate of 1970s Italy, as well as to the key role played by politics in the music and public persona of Italian songwriters. More importantly, such accusations manage to ignore the blatant fact that Rimmel has its fair share of remarkable "political" songs, such as the classics "Il Signor Hood" and "Pablo," both subject to much debate as to who were the real-life personalities that inspired them, as well as the gorgeous "Le Storie di Ieri," about the childhood of the son of a political opposition figure. Furthermore, De Gregori's love songs are a far cry from the trite offerings of, say, the San Remo Festival. In fact, a song like the stunning "Pezzi di Vetro" is full of the same surrealist imagery and enigmatic characters that populate the songwriter's universe, as it stubbornly refuses any easy interpretation while managing to suggest a myriad of complex emotions. Lastly, separate mention is due to the extraordinary title track, which juxtaposes an elegant, lilting piano melody with a subdued vocal; they gradually mount together into a crescendo, to ultimately settle for resignation. As the verses go by, De Gregori shapes contrasting yet coexistent waves of bitterness, dejection, gratitude, and lingering affection into a farewell thank-you/curse-you note to an ex-lover; to many, it is one of the finest Italian songs ever written. "Rimmel" became De Gregori's signature song, and it is only fitting that one of the most important Italian albums of the 1970s should be named after it.