After Premiata Forneria Marconi released the album Chocolate Kings in 1976 many people thought that it didnít contain the same high level of compositions as on Photos Of Ghosts (1973) and The World Became The World (1974). Those albums contained songs comparable to the quality of bands as Genesis and Yes in those days. Especially the Mellotron and the MiniMoog sounded stunning. Unfortunately, these instruments were not used so often on Chocolate Kings and moreover many PFM-fans didnít appreciate the voice of the new lead singer Bernardo Lanzetti, the previous singer of Aqua Fragile. His voice sounds like a blend of Peter Gabriel (Genesis) and Roger Chapman (Family). The band decided to take Lanzetti as the lead vocalist so that the other band members could concentrate more on their instruments. Besides they needed a real front man who could sing the English lyrics with hardly any accent. This way PFM hoped to get more international acclaim.
When I listened to Chocolate Kings 34 years after the first release, I realized that itís still one of the bandís best releases. Sure, it doesnít reach the same high level as the aforementioned albums, but we still hear compositions we donít hear that often nowadays! The five tracks on this album were written by Franco Mussida (guitars, vocals) and Mauro Pagani (wood-winds, violin) and didnít feature any songs written by keyboardist Flavio Premoli. That was probably the reason why the keyboards didnít have a prominent role in the sound on Chocolate Kings as contrasted with the violin. This time the lyrics werenít written by Pete Sinfield, because the band thought it to be impossible for him to write some very political statements. Bernardo Lanzetti and Marva Jan Marrow helped writing the lyrics. The albumís title refers to the way the American army liberated the Italians from fascism. The soldiers had chocolate in one hand and the tanks behind their shoulders. It was also a sharp criticism against the atomic bomb and the American consumerism. That was probably the reason why the cover of the international release differed from the Italian one. The fat lady had disappeared and was replaced by a candy bar wrapped in an American flag. As far as the music on this album is concerned it seemed that the band had moved a bit towards the musical style of bands like Gentle Giant, King Crimson and Jethro Tull.
For people who loved those Genesis- and Yes-influences in PFMís music itís good to know that the reissue of Chocolate Kings contains a bonus disc with several songs from previous releases, next to the material of Chocolate Kings. The recordings from a gig at the University of Nothingham, May 1st 1976 contains live versions of Four Holes In The Ground, Mr. Nine Till Five and Alta Loma FiveíTill Nine/William Tell Overture. These live versions are often played much faster or have been spoiled a bit by the additional long instrumental breaks which are mostly improvisations. The band liked to play their music differently on stage, but for the listener it was not always enjoyable. The band sometimes forgot they were performing in front of an audience. Maybe they had the urgency to show how wonderfully skilled musicians they were on their instruments.
All these remarks certainly donít mean that this new release is not a Ďmust haveí. Itís a collectorís item with a 24-bit remastering and a booklet full of pictures and historical information. Especially PFM-fans and people who love the sound of the seventies progressive rock bands will welcome this release by all means. I certainly did!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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