Paolo Conte

Snob

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Soon after releasing Nelson in 2010, Paolo Conte hinted at retirement, as he feared he had run out of things to say in the course of his illustrious 40-year career. Four years later, however, the 77-year-old is back once again with his 15th studio album and a tour on the making. There is plenty about Snob that indicates that perhaps Conte was right about calling it quits. Reception in Italy has been evenly divided between those still in awe of his mythical status and those who accuse him of having become a parody of himself, a point driven home by the popular, wickedly funny, and spot-on Conte impersonation by jazz pianist and TV host Stefano Bollani. In truth, there is nothing essentially wrong with Snob, but Conte has done everything on it before, and done it better, so it is understandable that many critics and fans have dared to voice their discontent louder than ever before. For the past 20 years, Conte's albums, while always enjoyable, have been suffering from the law of diminishing returns in terms of originality; by the time of Snob, it is not so much that every song on it can be automatically connected to a previous Conte song, but that it can be linked to at least a dozen other Conte songs. If he has been able to tread for so long on style over substance, it's due to two very simple factors. The first is that from the very beginning of his career, Conte has performed under the guise of an old man, always lost in reveries of a long-gone world, playing long-gone music, and singing in an old man's voice. This turned out to be quite a nifty trick in the long run, as you really can't age if you are already old to begin with. The second is that, as far as style is concerned, Conte borders on perfection; indeed, it just doesn't come any more stylish than this. In this regard, Snob never disappoints, for it has all the markings of Conte's grand style: the gruff voice, the staccato piano, the scat singing, the impeccable musicianship and arrangements, the bohemian life, the bourgeois ennui, and the imagining of exotic locales as an escape for said ennui, or as a venue for said bohemians to perform. What it's sorely missing is more outstanding songs to make it memorable; instead, it is the sonic equivalent of another day at the office (or more likely, bar stool). Perversely, his talent and charisma remain so distinctive that even if Snob sounds stale to longtime fans, it could also be argued that it's just about as good as anything he has done since the '90s, and could thus be recommended as a suitable introduction to anyone unfamiliar with his legendary status.

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