I love his ear for a hook, the way his voice struggles to express the notes he wants to hit. I love his Italianness, because only the land of opera and commedia dell’arte could support a genius like his.
This singer-songwriter is not much known outside of Italy, nor is his reputation as a guitarist particularly legendary, but when listening to his ‘Best of’ the other day I realised that he was somewhat ahead of his time in addition to being a decent player.
From the late 60s, we have tracks like La canzone del sole featuring Battisti’s Dylanesque acoustic technique, which pairs a hybrid pick and strum pattern with an overdubbed, almost snare-like second steel string acoustic that is synced with the drums. This second guitar is the one that remains with Battisti throughout his most fertile period, a percussive underpinning to his melodies that endures all the way to even the italdisco-flavoured album Una donna per amico.
There’s some great electric playing in Battisti’s catalogue as well, notably the fuzz/flanger work behind the chorus of Una giornata uggiosa. Il nostro caro angelo and Si, viaggiare both feature nice clean sounds even if they sound dated now.
And that’s the thing that I’m enjoying about going back to Battisti now: it is dated. Pop music of this kind is too unwieldy for modern ears and it was even back in the 90s when I first heard it. His lack of success in the English-speaking world (despite an English-language album in the early 80s – IT IS AWFUL) suggests that his brand of pop, introspective, narrative and melodramatic as it is might never have fit with the mass market of International Music. Battisti – quite apart from the lyrics of his long-term collaborator, Mogol – is prone to overblown build ups, operatic contrasts and musical melodrama. Coupled with the ‘tortured soul’ of his lyrical persona and there’s too much to take in. Check out the raw emotion of Io vorrei … non vorrei … ma se vuoi. It’s verging on silliness. In context, for that moment in the song, it works. But on reflection it seems almost embarrassing, like adolescent poetry.
I love Battisti, his middlebrow undergraduate philosophy and catchy tunes. I love his ear for a hook, the way his voice struggles to express the notes he wants to hit. I love his Italianness, because only the land of opera and commedia dell’arte could support a genius like his. All the best, Lucio.