Something in the Water

Pub date June 26, 2007
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Franco Battiato’s 1972 album Fetus, reissued by Water, is the kind of recording that transcends a record-store genre category such as Italian prog rock. For starters, the keyboard freak-out at the close of the title number is something today’s army of Kraftwerk drones should covet.

Beginning with the sound of a heartbeat and moving through transmissions from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin about purple rocks on the moon, Fetus repeatedly journeys from micro to macro and back again with ease. The spiraling keys of "Meccanica" could spook Goblin — or for that matter Alan Sorrienti, whose cronelike cackles and cries on another Water reissue, 1972’s Aria, presage Devendra Banhart’s running for the hobbit hills. And a ceaselessly splendid song such as "Energia" could teach Os Mutantes a lesson in mutation: it keeps moving from bambini babble to folk passages and gleaming synth vistas until it’s formed an exhilarating circular pattern — all in four and a half minutes.

Marvelous in form while Battiato’s lyrics marvel at the wonder and horror of life, Fetus has eight compositions. But they contain countless rich passages that flow into one another so seamlessly that the whole thing only seems to have one beginning and a single end that arrives too soon, after a truly epic half hour. One year later, with Pollution (also reissued by Water), Battiato brought the world the loveliest song ever recorded about plankton and a 20-second audio version of Y2K that proved to be more frightening and interesting than the real thing. But he still might have been at his best in Fetus form. (Huston)