Banco del Mutuo Soccorso: Darwin! (1972)
Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, or simply, Banco, is highly regarded as one of the greatest prog rock bands to come out of Italy, and after hearing this album, as well as their 1973 followup, Io Sono Nato Libero, I am willing to believe it. The band was known for the near-operatic vocals of Francesco di Giacomo (also known as “Big” or “Mr. Chubbs”) and the twin keyboards of brothers Gianni and Vittorio Nocenzi (piano, organ, synthesizers, harpsichord). Their music reminds me a little of ELP, but with a uniquely Italian twist.
Earlier in 1972, Banco released their first album, simply called Banco del Mutuo Soccorso. As great as that album is, the production could’ve been better, and there were a few unnecessarily slow passages that bog down parts of that album. So a few months later, Banco recorded and released Darwin! which is quite an improvement. Better production, better compositions, and even better and more interesting use of keyboards. Darwin! is a concept album about evolution.
The album opens up with “L’Evoluzione” which simply amazes me. I just totally dig those unconventional passages. Some of this reminds me of ELP’s Tarkus, only this is even better! The next cut, “La Conquista Della Posizione Eretta” is largely instrumental, and I was just totally amazed! Largely consists of synthesizer solos, the music is just unbelievably dramatic, I could hardly believe what I was hearing. This is perhaps one of the greatest songs I have ever heard in Italian prog. The end part of the song contains vocals, proving that Francesco di Giacomo was quite a vocalist (although his style is an acquired taste).
The next cut, “Danza dei Grandi Rettili” is a rather pleasant, jazzy piece that’s all instrumental. The next cut, “Cento Mani e Cento Occhi” was a song that didn’t grab me the first few listens but then it really grew on me big time. “750.000 Anni Fa… L’Amore” is a totally killer ballad. I especially dig the use of synthesizers in the middle part.
The ending cut, “Ed Ora Io Domando Tempo al Tempo Ed Egli Mi Risponde… Non Ne Ho!” has a rather carousel-like feel to it, with the use of reed organ and harpsichord, and di Giacomo’s voice. This is as Italian as they come. This album might not be one of their more accessible albums (start with Io Sono Nato Libero if you’re a newcomer) but after a few listens, I am totally convinced that this is not only one of their best albums, but one of the best Italian prog albums ever.
The album cover features a picture of a stopwatch with a bizarre landscape and Francesco di Giacomo using his arms like the arms you expect on a stopwatch. It seems to be such a well liked cover amongst prog rock fans that you can find it displayed on just about every prog rock review websites as well as online prog rock mail order companies out there. So if you’re looking for some really interesting and adventurous music, try this album.
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