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(52.31, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. We Can't Imagine 2008 Version 3.58 2. Ike Ray Intro 1.06 3. Open Your Eyes 3.40 4. Make You a Clister 3.50 5. Tan 1.39 6. We Can't Imagine 4.22 7. Vision Egg 3.16 8. Gnigo Gnago Circus 1.48 9. Walk Away 5.46 10. Ike Ray 11.20 11. Non Viaggero Mai Piu Nei Sogni Miei 3.56 12. Appuntamento Nel Sonno 2.17 13. La Polycar dello Zio Sergio 1.46 14. Cane in Coma 1.04 15. Cosmorella e il Voyeur 2.42 16. Monodrollo Fek 2.28 17. Nike-Shit 2.48 18. Tan Dub 1998 4.14 19. L’ora di Ivo 5.36 20. Uomo in Pantofole che Pensa ai Cazzi Suoi 2.27 LINEUP: Alex Lunati – vocals; keyboards Lor Lunati – drums; vocals Carlo Giugni – guitars; vocals Luca Mascia – bass
Prolusion. This album features the only official recording by Italian band TAN ZERO, plus a number of previously unreleased tracks – mainly intended for inclusion on their never released second album. The band was formed in 1982 in the northern Italian town of Spilamberto. Their original name was Luxmeter, which was changed to Tan Zero in 1985. They disbanded at the beginning of 1990, though its members remained in the music business. “We Can’t Imagine” was originally released on vinyl in 1987 as the soundtrack to independent movie “L’imperatore di Roma” (The Emperor of Rome).
Analysis. As the introduction makes abundantly clear, “We Can’t Imagine” is a very strange beast – basically a compilation from a band who ceased to exist almost twenty years ago, and only got briefly back together in 2001 (a previous reunion was attempted in 1998, but failed due to prior commitments of the band members). Moreover, the music contained within strikes the listener as being extremely diverse, from mainstream, new-wave-influenced songs to decidedly experimental offerings. The latter display a strong Frank Zappa influence, both in the titles and in the musical approach, and offer a tantalising insight into the band’s future potential. ‘Potential’ seems to be the operative word here – Tan Zero definitely had quite a lot of it, but, unlike so many Italian bands, bent on beating the odds at all costs, their promise never fully materialised, and they ended up being forgotten way too soon. As already stated, the 20 tracks included here run the gamut from the Eighties pop of the title track (whose original version, slower and lusher-sounding, is far superior to the 2008 version which opens the disc), to the very traditional rock ballad of Walk Away with its liberal use of piano, to the positively wacky avant-garde of most of the bonus tracks. The mild disappointment experienced by the seasoned prog fan when listening to the first few tracks of the album turns into interest when confronted with the short but intriguing Tan, with its distinctly vintage prog-sounding keyboards, and into sheer delight when listening to the album’s centre piece, the sprawling, bass-led, 11-minute tour-de-force of Ike Ray – the perfect soundtrack for a movie based on the adventures of two junkies in the city of Rome. Listening to We Can’t Imagine is surely a rather peculiar experience, since one may feel they are listening to different bands contained within the same recording. Most of the tracks are very short, some barely above one minute in length, so being confronted by the likes of Ike Ray, with a running time more typical of ‘classic’ prog than anything pop or even new-wave, may come as a pleasant shock. On the other hand, Vision Egg could have been directly lifted from one of Blue Oyster Cult’s Eighties albums – down to the vocals sounding like a dead ringer for Eric Bloom; while the intriguingly-titled Gnigo Gnago Circus is a brief slice of Zappaesque humour, ending (as expected) with a circus-like keyboard melody and funny vocals. One interesting detail about Tan Zero is that, unlike many other Italian bands associated with progressive rock, they seem not to be rooted so much in the Italian musical tradition, as rather to follow international models, like new wave, avant-garde, or even AOR as in the aforementioned Vision Egg. On the other hand, judging from this collection of songs, they also seemed uncertain which path to choose – whether to go for radio airplay, as most of the songs with vocals present on this album would attest, or turn instead towards experimentation. The choice of recording a soundtrack as their debut is a peculiar one too, though justified by the often cinematic quality of their tracks – La Polycar dello Zio Sergio could have come out of a spy movie, while album closer Uomo in Pantofole che Pensa ai Cazzi Suoi has a distinct Morricone vibe. Like many other Italian bands, Tan Zero chose to record most of their songs in English – very rarely a smart move, because very few Italians ever manage to get rid of their accent, which in my opinion detracts from the overall effect of the music (just check Osanna’s “Landscape of Life” for further proof of that). The only song with Italian vocals, Non Viagger? Piu Nei Sogni Miei, is by far the most effective, and makes good use of Alex Lunati’s low-pitched, melodic tones. On a side note, any non-English-speaking band that chooses to record in English would do well to check that their song titles are really in English, and not in some pidgin form of the language: Make You a Clister does not mean anything in English (the correct version would be “Give You an Enema”). Most of the bonus tracks are instrumental, with a couple of exceptions – one of which, Nike-Shit, could fit perfectly on any Zappa CD, both on account of the music and the scatologically-themed lyrics. The more experimental items, though, show other influences than Zappa – Pink Floyd lurks behind the spacey, free-form Monodrollo Fek, and on a couple of other tracks a distinctly Doors-like organ sound can be heard. On those tracks Tan Zero sound very original (though completely wacky), and one cannot help but regret their untimely demise – a lot of talent shines through those 20 songs.
Conclusion. Anyone interested on the ‘other side’ of Italian progressive rock (i.e. non-symphonic, untraditional bands and artists) could do worse than give “We Can’t Imagine” a listen. A word of advice: do not be put off by the initial, mainstream tracks, and listen carefully for the more offbeat items. In particular, “Ike Ray” will reward your patience with a slice of intriguing, authentically progressive music.
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