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ACQUA FRAGILE (Crime KICP 2051) [1973]

MASS MEDIA STARS (Crime KICP 2052)( Contempo Conte 003) [1974]

LIVE IN EMILIA - SPRING 75 (Prehistoric PR 03) [1994]

In the history of Italian rock the group Acqua Fragile is too often shunted off as a footnote to the career of Premiata Forneria Marconi, the band better known as PFM. This is because PFM co-produced their two albums, used them as an opening act, and ultimately took on their lead vocalist, Bernardo Lanzetti. But Acqua Fragile deserves better. It made two underrated but classic albums.

The albums were originally released by Dischi Ricordi, the same RCA subsidiary which released the early PFM albums, and the first album came in an unusual package: What looked at first like a gatefold LP cover unfolded into a flat poster which measured 24½ x 24½ inches and combined a Klee-like art style with post-YELLOW SUBMARINE stylizations and photos of the group. The second album was more normally packaged.

The music was in places deceptively quiet. The use of production devices was limited. Some parts had an acoustic sound. There was at times a reliance on vocal harmonies to supply warmth and richness to the music. And all of these elements worked well together. Lanzetti had a voice that reminded me of two British vocalists: Family's Roger Chapman (Lanzetti could evoke that same broad vibrato), and Genesis' (then) Peter Gabriel. And that was not the only comparison with Genesis. "Morning Comes," the first track on ACQUA FRAGILE, sounds very much like TRESSPASS-period Genesis. On the other hand, the next track, "Comic Strips," sounds a good deal more like early Gentle Giant. In each case, however, the melodies are original and the equal of their models. And by the end of the album the band's own style has become evident.

The band was composed of Piero Canavera on drums, Gino Campanini on guitar, Bernardo Lanzetti on guitar and lead vocals, Franz Dondi on bass, and Maurizio Mori on keyboards. All but Dondi also contributed backing/harmony vocals. Canavera wrote the music and Lanzetti the lyrics. Interestingly, the lyrics are entirely in English. However, the lyric sheet provided with the first album gives only the Italian translations, and the lyric sheet for the second album prefaces the English lyrics with Italian explanations.

Paolo Barotto, in his RETURN OF ITALIAN POP, calls Acqua Fragile "one of the many unfortunate groups that for one reason or another did not attain success." Although the band was formed in 1971, it was not until Claudio Fabi and PFM took an interest in them that they were signed to a recording contract in 1973. Barotto quotes them from an interview: "We spent two years trying to find somebody willing to let us do an album as we wanted to, and… singing in English." Barotto mentions that Lanzetti was called an "Italian Peter Gabriel" by many.

Fabi and PFM did what they could for the band - and Fabi played piano on one track of the second album - but Acqua Fragile broke up in 1975. Lanzetti moved on to become PFM's new lead singer, but seems to have been less successful in the context of PFM's own musical shifts during that period, leaving in 1980 for a solo career. He has since recorded five solo albums, none of which I've heard. More recently he has played in the Cantautore Big Band with Alberto Radius.

The Japanese King Record Co. released both albums on CD on its Crime label in 1990 with faithful (up to a point - the cover of the first album doesn't open up like the original did) packaging, reproducing the original lyrics and credits. Contempo released the second album in Italy a couple of years later. Since then Italian RCA has released the first album as well, but I haven't looked at a copy. I recommend both albums in whatever edition you can find them.

What I cannot recommend is the live album, LIVE IN EMILIA. It was recorded near the end of Acqua Fragile's existence, on a tour which had apparently been set up with the Italian band, Trip. Trip's keyboard player, Joe Vescovi, plays with Acqua Fragile (in place of Maurizio Mori) throughout. Six of the pieces on the album are from the two albums, while three (including a version of Bach's "Prelude in C Major") are by Vescovi, and there is a "Mean Woman Blues" thrown in for good measure. But it hardly matters what is on this album. The recording is of poor bootleg quality, recorded from the audience and muffled and distant. What one hears is a vague approximation of the music played and it can be frustrating. There is some historical but no musical reason for this album. Unfortunately, the CD is well and professionally packaged, having notes which include reminiscences by Vescovi and list four of Lanzetti's subsequent solo albums. (The notes are, however, in Italian.) I suspect the Vinyl Magic people lurk somewhere behind this release, but had no intention of putting it out on their own label, due to its awful sound quality. Avoid it unless you're a completist.

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