America's self-regarding vision of itself is such that artists who are undisputed legends elsewhere are not seen to have made it if they have no stateside success. That doesn't mean that they can't have an influence worldwide, whether English-speaking or not, which is where longtime Italian superstar Franco Battiato comes into the picture. Avant-rocker Jim O'Rourke has named him as one of his favorites, Simple Minds' Jim Kerr has collaborated with him, while an ever-expanding series of reissues brought his early work to the attention of prog-psych fanatics around the globe in the late '90s, even as he pursues his current recording interests in other spheres.
Born in 1945 in the village of Jonio, Battiato's initial stabs into musical work in the 1960s didn't go anywhere beyond a single or two, leaving his first real break to occur in the early '70s when he began recording a series of albums for the underground label Bla Bla. Starting with Fetus in 1971 and concluding with L'Egitto Prima Delle Sabbie (Egypt Before the Sands) in 1978, he staked out his own claim in the high-ferment world of Italian prog rock. Musically accomplished if sometimes poorly recorded, and unafraid to indulge in more than a little whimsy, these records covered the gamut from extreme experimentalism to more song-focused efforts, the two most notable of which would be 1972's Pollution and 1973's Sulle Corde Di Aries (On the Ropes of Aries). Compared to other bands like Area and PFM, however, Battiato and his band were cult figures more loved abroad than at home; performances in France and Germany as the opening act for Brian Eno and Nico give a sense as to his appeal elsewhere. Battiato's often extravagant appearance at this time make him something of an Italian Peter Gabriel, while his lyrics eschewed then-fashionable Maoist/terrorist posing in favor of a deep but humorous combination of Asian philosophies and literary reflection.
Switching labels to EMI's Italian branch, his fortunes in the Italian popular eye turned (also in an uncanny parallel with Gabriel) in the '80s, specifically with 1981's La Voce del Padrone (The Voice of the Master). Embracing a more direct, synth-pop style -- not too surprising given that keyboards were always his primary musical instrument -- Battiato found himself rewarded with an Italian smash, enabling his star to rise both at home and elsewhere in Europe. Since then, while he has not specifically revisited his earlier style in full, Battiato has continued to explore any number of musical styles and approaches in the present day. This includes a number of collaborations with orchestras and multimedia touring, notably including a visit with Virtuosi Italiani in 1993 to Baghdad to collaborate with Iraq's national orchestra, as well as works commissioned by his native Sicily to celebrate that island's rich history. Something of an elder statesman of Italian popular music as of the turn of the millennium, Battiato continues to record and perform, following his muse wherever it leads him. ~ Ned Raggett, Rovi