(All Album Reviews by Reginod)
Acqua Fragile's stab at stardom was a brief one. The PFM-nurtured Italian band released only two albums - a grand total of 13 songs - before the band splintered and vocalist Bernardo Lanzetti left to actually join PFM, as opposed to opening for them.
Perhaps it was both a blessing and a curse that Acqua Fragile's wagon was hitched to that of PFM. The latter band was credited with co-producing both albums by the former; it stands to reason that Lanzetti and his bandmates benefited from the some of best technology, facilities and production expertise available in Italy during the early-to-mid 1970's.
The downside was that Acqua Fragile probably had trouble escaping from PFM's shadow. They were also destined to be forever (sometimes unfavorably) compared to several other well-renowned bands, specifically Genesis, Yes, Gentle Giant and CSN&Y. Their second release, 1974's Mass Media Stars did little to dispel the comparisons, although it did have less of the first, self-titled album's acoustic focus that most likely led to the CSN&Y accusations.
Certainly the parallels drawn to Genesis were valid. Not only was Lanzetti considered by some to be "the Italian Peter Gabriel," there were pieces and passages on both Acqua Fragile albums that bore an obvious resemblance to Nursery Cryme or Foxtrot-era Genesis. "Morning Comes" from Acqua Fragile's debut is one good example, with its light-and-shadow, quiet-to-crescendo song construction and Banks-styled keyboard and mellotron playing.
The comparisons to Yes are also valid. "Education Story" was a good example from the debut album, and Mass Media Stars is full of Yes-style vocal harmonies and even fast-paced chanting that would have made Jon Anderson blush. Acqua Fragile even took it a step further. The rapid-fire delivery displayed by Lanzetti on "Opening Act" might even make a few rappers break a sweat: "Skipping from an always dusty hall /to another lonely highway /Not a line about you /Comes out in the local paper /And no willing groupies /Anxious to gently peel your oranges /Your ridiculous and broken down equipment drives you /Nicely out of tune."
Indeed, wielding the hurried judgments with which one could dismiss Acqua Fragile as a derivative knock-off makes it all too easy to miss out on a fine band that had a unique approach of their own. Acqua Fragile played extremely well written and arranged material, and their supple musicianship was carefully balanced into an impressive whole which favored ensemble playing over individual displays of brilliance.
The membership of Acqua Fragile stayed the same for both of their studio albums. Besides handling lead vocals and playing guitars, Lanzetti wrote all of the lyrics, while drummer Piero Canavera wrote all the music and provided more acoustic guitar and backing vocals.
The lead guitar responsibilities were handled by Gino Campanini, while the keyboards were played by Maurizio Mori. Together the two played a crucial role, weaving a myriad of sounds seamlessly together and creating a deceptively rich harmonic environment. Their swirling work on "Cosmic Mind Affair" provides a perfect aural backdrop to the chanting vocals; the band spits out lyrics that Neil Peart might have appreciated: "Geometry's always provided /Solved by time and point of view /And the oddness and quality of madness /Being the only things to frame."
Perhaps the most outstanding single instrumental performance on Mass Media Stars was that of bassist Franz Dondi. He had played well on the band's debut, but he outdid himself on the follow-up, his four strings rippling with taut, muscular melodies throughout the course of the album, all the while helping strengthen the precise framework of the bands' arrangements. Maybe he took a page out of Chris Squire's book, but the Yes-master himself could hardly have done this music better justice. (It is interesting to note that Dondi, in recent years, formed the Acqua Fragile Project with a stable of younger and different musicians, to go out and play the material of his old band. Some clips of them in performance are posted at YouTube.)
In the end, despite the help that they got from PFM and co-producer Claudio Fabi, and despite the obvious nods to their influences, Acqua Fragile created two fine albums of symphonic progressive rock. On Mass Media Stars they took a small step away from the folk-rock aspirations of the first album, and the joy and energy in their music is still apparent more than three decades later.