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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

PFM - Premiata Forneria Marconi

Storia di un minuto

Review by Julie Knispel

Premiata Forneria Marconi is one of the “Big Three;” that is to say, one of the three most highly regarded Italian progressive rock bands.  Along with Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso and Le Orme, PFM was responsible for much of what listeners think of when they hear the phrase "Italian Prog." Their music was filled with more keyboards per square inch than one might have imagined possible or practical, often with folk or classically inflected arrangements that added a baroque patina to the proceedings.  Vocally, Italian prog is very much informed by the classical artists that dominated the Italian music scene for hundreds of years, filled with passion and emotion.

Storia di un minuto was the band’s debut release, issued on the Numero Uno label from RCA records, and became the first album by an Italian rock band to top that country’s charts.  The album is a work of sublime talent, and it is amazing that it is only their first professional release; many bands have toiled longer to craft a single release as close to perfect as this one.  All the pieces are in place: guitar work that ranges from the precious and fragile to ballsy and searing…keyboards filling every nook and cranny with a plethora of tones and timbres, and vocals wringing every drop of emotion from lyrics that cover subjects as diverse as nature, love, celebration, and more.

Unlike Banco, whose material was more orchestral and operatic, or Le Orme, who featured a more pop and folk nuance to their material, PFM’s music is a bit jazzier, even in their earlier albums.  While they certainly held close to the traditions of Italian progressive rock (traditions they helped to craft), even their earliest efforts saw them incorporating enough different elements to set them apart from their contemporaries.  It’d be silly to say PFM were better than Banco or Le Orme…they were all different, and the scene benefited from that. Nearly 40 years later, Storia di un minuto is as eye opening as it must have been when first released.  It is a stunning work of maturity and skill that most bands would be hard pressed to replicate, let alone surpass.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 4 at

Track by Track Review
PFM’s debut album opens with subtlety, as a brief introductory passage builds slowly with flute and vocals "dominating" a very fragile arrangement.  Bass guitar is very present, but the playing itself is very restrained and careful, leading to a slightly heavier band section with more forceful guitar and keyboard additions.  In many ways this piece feels more like an introductory section to the following track than a piece that stands alone.
Impressioni di settembre
This first major piece on Storia di un minuto is one which some prog fans may recognize from elsewhere, as the main theme from this composition was quoted often by Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess in his solos from 2004.  It evolves pretty naturally from the album’s opening track, with vocals that range from barely spoken whispered notes to full throated exhortations filled with force and emotion.  The track’s main theme is infectiously hummable, with fantastic synth tones played over mellotron and fantastic drumming.
È festa
This piece is perhaps the most recognizable track on the album, and I could almost guarantee that most people have heard this countless times without realizing it.  This is a song of celebration (in fact, the English rendition of this song is called "Celebration") and the music matches the title wonderfully, with fanfares, an incredibly fast beat, and more than enough energy to go around.  It’s a song that requires dancing, jumping, yelling for joy.  I find it doubtful there is a single more joyful, happy piece in any band’s catalogue.
Dove... quando... parte 1
The first part of this track is an ode to longing and love.  The keyboard and guitar work combine to create a wonderfully baroque feel while also sounding very Mediterranean.  The vocals are wonderfully performed here, with just the right touch of emotion to feel genuine and not at all forced.
Dove... quando... parte 2
The second of two pieces with the same title, this section lyrically seems to deal more with the worries of having found that longed for love…how much time is there, how much time is left to be shared?  Unlike Part 1, this second section is far more rock based, with sections wildly shifting from full on rock to light fusion.  Individually the two parts of “Dove…quando” are solid; together they showcase the wide range of styles the band was willing to work with, and are among the most impressive 10 minutes of material in the entire Italian prog canon.
La carrozza di Hans
The penultimate composition on Storia di un Minuto arises from the preceding 2-part mini epic so naturally that it almost feels a continuation than a separate track.  Lyrically the song is quite a piece of its own, dealing with Hans the Merchant (at least according to a rough and ready translation of the lyrics via Babelfish).  The song opens with a heavier touch before shifting styles to lighter fare, with jazzy drums, electric piano and flute creating a brightly coloured musical backing for Franz Di Cioccio’c vocals.  The instrumental break at 5:00 is particularly exciting, with the addition of violin presaging the American band Kansas (as much in vibe and style as in the simple addition of the instrument) by several years.
Grazie davvero
Quite simply, this is a song about rain.  While that sounds like a silly song title, when one thinks about it, rain is one of those universal things; it falls on all of us, rich and poor, no matter the colour of our skin or the nation we live in.  It touches each and every one of us, and as such is something that binds us all together.  Subjects like these are often the source of inspiration for Italian prog artists, and PFM is no exception.  Musically the song opens quietly, with acoustic guitar and quietly sung vocals creating a gentle, soothing soundscape.  The heavier sections contrast nicely with with the quieter ones, with moments sounding unlike anything else the band would craft in the future (or, quite honestly, unlike anything else in the genre).
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