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PFM - Emotional Tattoos album review

Songs for the stadiums from ELP’s old muckers

Joining the roster of Manticore recording artists at the behest of Greg Lake in 1973, there’s no doubt that an association with what was then one of the biggest prog rock acts in the Western world helped PFM reach a wider audience. To be fair to Milan’s finest, though, their success wasn’t entirely down to rock star largesse. They had the talent to justify the attention heaped upon them on the international scene after the dazzling brilliance of Photos Of Ghosts and other subsequent releases.

Decades later, after periods of inactivity, various reformations and changing line-ups, original member Franz Di Cioccio, the band’s drummer and vocalist, remains a constant presence, and it’s his leathery voice, filtered through a light gauze of phasing, that dominates these new songs. With the two-CD edition presenting an instrumentally identical mix but with vocals in either English or Italian, there are points when the stately progress of languid synthrich themes or jaunty, folk-flecked melodies evoke something of the group’s 70s heyday. The rousing instrumental Freedom Square could easily give Celebration a run for its money when it comes to depositing earworms in your head. I’m Just A Sound partially inhabits the fusion-friendly hairpin bends PFM used to place in proximity to their more romantic and anthemic inclinations, while A Day We Share circulates an insistent rhythmic motif, set upon by various contrapuntal devices and, incongruously perhaps, a happy, poppy chorus.

While undoubtedly a meticulously groomed, high-end production, everything appears varnished in a slick, aural sheen. The unfortunate side effect of this is that a lot of the material begins to sound homogenised, lacking any rough edges or contrasting textures. The sense of things being overly smooth is further compounded by many of the compositions themselves tending to favour a familiar, streamlined, AOR-style construction.

While accepting that any band, regardless of vintage or heritage, have the right to move on from their past in order to shift gears or adopt a mode that better suits their current disposition and personnel, a lot of Emotional Tattoos sounds like a group locked firmly in their comfort zone. That’s fine, of course – one person’s collection of symphonic rockers can easily be another’s overly bland soft rock concoction.

None of this means that Emotional Tattoos is a bad album – in fact, it’s very good in places. However, it’s difficult to feel that it represents PFM at their most distinctive or freshest.