Something of an anomaly within his voluminous catalog, Amore E Non Amore, originally released in 1971, finds Lucio Battisti moving away from the string-laden folk balladry and Italian pop on which he initially made a name for himself and into more abstract, almost experimental territory. It’s is artsier than many of the albums Battisti recorded in a career that spanned from 1969 to his death in 1998 at the age of 55. Using the title dichotomy as a starting point, the album tackles the duality of love, approaching its more unpleasant elements before resolving into something more amenable. This comes through on the album’s two-sided approach to the its subject: the first raucous and rocking, the second more gently nuanced and subdued.

Much like Serge Gainsbourg – a more lascivious comparison than perhaps Battisti’s sensitive balladry deserves – the ‘70s saw the singer infusing his music with elements of the preceding decade’s sense of musical exploration. Yet where Gainsbourg moved away from his chanson roots into increasingly strange, unique and prurient directions, Battisti here took one of only several slight detours into more experimental territory, as his later output still clung to elements of his balladic roots. But for at least one glorious album, he moved to the outer reaches of psych-folk, bringing elements of garage rock and instrumental freak outs with him.

Where his bookending albums Emozioni and Umanamenta Uomo: Il Songo relied on instrumental subtlety and the more delicate reaches of Battisti’s roughshod voice, Amore E Non Amore more often than not plays like something of an emotional catharsis, the emotion threatening to overwhelm his delivery. By the end of opening track “Dio mio no” in particular, he has is reduced to paroxysms of near unintelligibility and raw emoting. On “Se La Mia Pelle Vuoi” he manages to channel John Fogerty and the Guess Who’s Burton Cummings via Little Richard to thrilling effect. It’s straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll in the classical sense, done in a manner that would give his British and American peers a run for their money. By the end he is all Little Richard screams and raspy sandpaper shouts.

At a brief eight tracks over 35 minutes, Amore E Non Amore requires a fair amount for its listeners, refusing to give up its secrets with mere cursory listens. Instead, the more one encounters the album, the more they begin to fully realize its brilliance and utter uniqueness not only for Battisti, but Italian music in general. While others were content to explore more progressive proclivities and sensitive artistry – to which Battisti would return in varying degrees with subsequent releases – Amore E Non Amore virtually defies description.

“Una” begins with the feel of a ballad before building into something larger than the sum of its parts. At less than four minutes, it captures the massive, cathartic crescendo of songs like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” or even “Hey Jude” within a much smaller space and with even more emotional heft—and ultimately, payoff.

“7 Agosto di Pomeriggio, fra le Lamiere Roventi di un Cimitero di Automoboli Solo Io, Silenzioso Eppure Straordinariamente Vivo,” is one of several descriptively-titled, almost palate-cleansing instrumentals scattered throughout. These pieces each rely on an almost cinematic quality, forgoing Battisti’s voice altogether in favor of a sweeping instrumental approach that, at face value feels somewhat incongruous. Yet given the shambolically considered manner in which he composed the music to accompany Giulio ‘Mogol’ Rapetti’s lyrics, these interstitial instrumentals can be seen as functioning more as assisted immersion into the world in which Battisti finds himself inhabiting on Amore E Non Amore. It’s a brief bridge from the outside world into that emotionally insular space he occupies here.

Yet for all of its emotional insularity and philosophically musical opining on the enigmatic paradox that is love, Amore E Non Amore proved a liberating release for Battisti, showing him capable of far more than standard Italian ballads and lightweight pop. While this musical liberation would come to full fruition on 1974’s far more Latin American-prog-leaning Anima Latina, the sounds captured here offer a raw glimpse into the evolutionary creative process of one of Italy’s biggest pop stars. This is one of those rare, celebrated albums by a continental artist that actually lives up to the hype.

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