4 out of 5 Stars!
How this classic Italian Prog-Rock band eluded me all these decades until just recently, I’ll never know, but I’m just glad I finally discovered them and tracked down a copy of Clowns, their third and final album, originally issued way back in 1973.
Generally, when it comes to the music on offer here, I am quite pleased, giddy even, especially since I’m a big fan of the band Gentle Giant. Please note, since Nuova Idea released this particular album during the midst of Gentle Giant’s “creative peak” years, it’s impossible to know exactly who might have “borrowed” from whom, but I suspect Nuovo Idea was more the “borrower” than the “borrowee.”
On the song “Clessidra,” for example, the main riff instantly brings to mind “Prologue” from Gentle Giant’s Three Friends album, whereas part of the song “Un’Isola” somehow seemed heavily influenced by “Wreck,” a classic track off Gentle Giant’s Acquiring the Taste album. The long and complex title track “Clowns” also contains numerous riffs that could have easily found a home on Gentle Giant’s In a Glass House album…similar keyboard sounds, similar rhythm patterns, similar guitar tones, etc. Overall, there’s nothing that’s a direct Gentle Giant rip-off, mind you, but enough traits of Gentle Giant to put a wide smile on my face.
In addition to the heavy hand of Gentle Giant appearing on this album, I can also detect the occasional nods to fellow countrymen PFM and Jumbo throughout. On “Clowns,” especially, these additional influences come through when the classical and jazzy moments slip onto the picture. The rhythm changes, as well as the keyboard and guitar arrangements on this track, are generally quirky, and even the inclusion of some trumpet adds an extra dimension to the often-strange, yet enjoyable slice of Italian Prog-Rock. Again, the band Jumbo springs to mind most prominently, and I love it.
One important caveat I must mention—the singer of this band, Ricky Belloni, takes some getting used to, and in truth, may not appeal to some less-forgiving listeners. At times, although he does sing on key, his vocal quality is more than a tad grating, especially when he’s reaching for the high notes on a track such as “Un’Isola.” The overuse of vibrato, such as on “Il Giardino dei Sogni” and segments of “Clowns,” along with the gruffness of his voice, as well as his overly dramatic approach, could be a turn-off for some people. But when he’s singing in a mellow voice and doesn’t use his vibrato, he’s perfectly fine. The same goes for when he’s singing as part of a team with other band members, such as on “Clessidra,” his voice blends in quite well and the irritation factor is reduced to almost nil. Nevertheless, listeners should beware of this one “negative” when it comes to this album.
Despite that single criticism, I found this album quite silly and fun, often engaging. You could tell the musicians had a great time putting this album together, and their overall instrumentation is quite superb. Despite the lack of originality regarding their style, Nuova Idea were indeed a talented lot that, sadly, disappeared off the landscape after only a few short years.