Premiata Forneria Marconi – Photos of Ghosts

In the Italian progressive rock scene, there are few grails as holy as PFM’s ‘Per Un Amico’, an album which has since gone on to be considered not only to be among the best of Italy, but among the best prog rock of all time. Once discovered by Greg Lake of ELP, the band was given the opportunity to thrust out on to the international scene, whereas they had previously had most of their fanbase locked within their own country. As was likely one of the best business decisions that the band ever made, they made an album mostly in English, ironically a language that none of them were fluent in. Rerecording much of ‘Per Un Amico’ and adding a few new surprises along the way, Premiata Forneria Marconi had made an album that could finally introduce them to the global community. Although ‘Photos Of Ghosts’ is typically thought of as ‘Per Un Amico’ with English lyrics, there is more that has been done to refurbish this album than simply that, and although I am sure that many would tend to disagree, ‘Photos Of Ghosts’ results as an even more successful album than ‘Per Un Amico’, fixing some of the issues I had with that album, and giving a fresh new look on the music simultaneously.

As one might expect, the lyrics and new vocal performance tend to be the worst thing about ‘Photos Of Ghosts’. As one can tell by the often garbled Italian accent, the vocalists struggle through the alien English language, and some of the passion that filled the vocals in the original has been lost in translation. Had this been the only thing that had been changed for ‘Photos Of Ghosts’, the album would be fairly unnecessary and I would tend to reccommend this record only to diehard fans of the other. Potentially the biggest thing that PFM has improved with on ‘Photos’ however is the sense of flow. Although the music was incredible on ‘Per Un Amico’, it did suffer from a lack of flow, as if the tracks were spliced together seemingly at random. The uncomplimentary fashion in which the album was structured robbed it of any perfection it may have otherwise had, but with ‘Photos Of Ghosts’, it really feels as if measures are taken to ensure a smooth listening experience. Instead of moving onto ‘Generale’ for the second track, PFM follows up the English rendition of ‘Appena Un Po’ with a song from their debut, ‘E Festa’; aptly titled ‘Celebration’ here. Having a very moving and slower piece being trailed by a more upbeat and melodic number is ten times more effective than the jazzy breakdown that haphazardly followed on the original. Things like this make the album move along as a masterpiece would, and it really makes the music shine the way it should have on the original.

There are also some added nuances to the music, a sense that the album’s sound was tweaked before rereleasing. It must have been a good experience for the band to look back on their existing music and try to improve things they may have regretted in hindsight. The nuances are entirely fresh perse, but it does make the music sound a little more up to date than ‘Per Un Amico’. The music of course is warm, lush, and takes quite a few tricks from jazz and classical music. ‘Per Un Amico’ is widely considered a masterpiece for a reason, but it feels as if the tunes are even better here, save for the rather weak vocals. ‘Photos Of Ghosts’ may be a remake, and while it is not a legitimate album when compared to ‘Per Un Amico’, I feel it does provide a more fulfilling listening experience. Issues have been fixed, and much like a patch, Premiata Forneria Marconi have touched up their album and created an album I can more safely consider a masterpiece.

Tracklist:

1. River of life (6:56)
2. Celebration (3:50)
3. Photos of Ghosts (5:20)
4. Old rain (3:40)
Side 2
5. Il banchetto (8:34)
6. Mr. 9 till 5 (4:07)
7. Promenade the puzzle (7:35)

Line-up:

* Franz Di Cioccio – drums, vocal
* Franco Mussida – electric and acoustic guitar, vocal
* Mauro Pagani – flute, violin, Windwood, vocal
* Giorgio Piazza – bass
* Flavio Premoli – keyboards, Hammond organ, piano, Mellotron, Moog, Vocal

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