What a difference a year makes. By the end
of 1973, the world of 'progressive rock' had moved on, pushing the needle on
the dial firmly towards 'overload'. Yes were telling us 'Tales from topographic
oceans', the Who had 'Quadrophenia', Jethro Tull were in a 'Passion play', ELP
were undergoing 'Brain salad surgery', Mike Oldfield had 'Tubular bells' and
Rick Wakeman was dreaming of a 'Journey to the centre of the Earth'. Concept
albums were definitely in vogue.
Peter Sinfield's popular reputation at the
time was that of 'Chief Elf', dreamer of prog-rock dreams'. He had, after all,
written 'Lizard' a mere three years earlier. What would he come up with for
the long-awaited second English PFM album? Well on the surface, the lyrics were
definitely for their time, but there was a darker undertow that was anything
'L'Isola di Niente' was the third Italian album
by PFM. The band had toured extensively in Europe and were attracting critical
acclaim from America. The third album was intended to present a more 'English'
sound capable of being performed in larger venues in the United States. Patrick
Djivas was brought in to strengthen the vocals. His voice was deeper and more
forceful than the gentle melodious tenor voice of Franco Mussida. PFM were going
for a place in the rock hall of fame.
Peter Sinfield was given the freedom to add
new English lyrics to the already recorded Italian songs. Once again, the tempo
and emotional tone had already been set by the band. The lyrics fit the Italian
metres perfectly and enhance the harder edge to the music. Taken as a whole,
however, they are personal stories of loss of innocence - of having to 'make
do' living in a less-than-perfect world.
"Mountains loom large in any landscape and have long been invested with sacredness by many peoples around the world. They carry a rich symbolism. The vertical axis of the mountain drawn from its peak down to its base links it with the world-axis, and, as in the case of the Cosmic Tree, is identified as the centre of the world. This belief is attached, for example, to Mount Tabor of the Israelites and Mount Meru of the Hindus.
In Ancient Greece the pre-eminent god of the mountain was Zeus for whom there existed nearly one hundred mountain cults. Zeus, who was born and brought up on a mountain (he was allegedly born in a cave, The Sacred Cave on Mount Ida on Crete), ruled supreme on Mount Olympus."
'The mountain' begins with a choir singing
in Italian. It feels more at home in the palaces of the Vatican in Rome than
in a bread shop in Chiari.
After two minutes 15 seconds the powerful guitar-centred
riff breaks the stillness leading into the tortured vocals of Djivas. This creates
a new harder sound, but one still centred upon Italian culture.
Peter Sinfield's lyrics reflect the sombre
tone of the music. A tale of a mountain, whose balance and harmony is destroyed
by human activity - mining and deforestation.
Red Bellows of flame have blackened my stones
Convulsing my frame and cracking my bones.
Hell's dragons of steel who roar in their chains
Crawl into my caves to suck out my veins.
This is very similar to a passage from the Doors' album, Strange Days.
"What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered,
And ripped her and bit her,
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn,
And tied her with fences and dragged her down."
- Jim Morrison
When The Music's Over
The gentle second verse paints an idyllic picture
of times past when the power of the mountain was pre-eminent over the primitive
humans ('apes') who lived in the shadows. Gods lived in the mountains, feared
and respected by the apes. Chief amongst the mountain gods was
I've split the sky ten million
And I've been called a hundred different names.
I know the stories of the wind,
I've argued with the thunder and the rain ...
Till eagles flew from Urizen
Revealing how my mother's
face was horribly changed
By the apes ...
has echoes of William Blake's name for the Creator of the universe within his
own belief system of the eternals.
The name itself (Urizen) is thought to mean "Your Reason" and represents
none other than the Thinking Function. Blake's cosmology included the four
psychological functions (i.e. Blake's Four Zoas are the four functions).
It's fascinating how Blake was the pre-Crimson (or Sinfield the post-Blake). This is the same "mountain" (the Self) that was touched by the wind in Peace: A Beginning and the mountain is the self, the "centre of the world", as much as it is a symbol of the earth. As in the inaugural songs on In the Court of the Crimson King, In the Wake of Poseidon, Lizard, Islands and Still, what is happening inside (the person) is reflected, or seen to also be happening, outside in the world. Looking at the song psychologically, the self "knows the stories" of the Thinking function ("the wind") and "has argued" with the Feeling function ("the thunder and the rain") till "eagles", another symbol of Zeus, (conscious thought, or a new thought) "flew" from (your) reason (Urizen) revealing how my mother's (Earth's) face was horribly changed by the apes (humans). The mountain, or the Self, refers to humans as "apes" because the Self sees no distinction between man and nature. To God, the Self, we are not distinct from the natural world, we are a part of nature, a species of ape. This perspective was also expressed in the first song on Photos of Ghosts, River of Life, wherein the Self (the river) saw mechanical cranes as a part of nature (as birds feeding along the banks).
"Ships and barges
Dark rusty hearts
Feed cranes along your banks."
The song ends with the mortals
overthrowing their mountain god, who lies powerless and broken amidst the exploitation:
lay broken and ill
By the plight and the pain of his mountains
By his waterfall weeps
Once again ...
The rebellion of the apes against O-Yam-Tsu-Mi is equivalent to the rebellions of Prometheus and Lucifer against their respective gods. It is the rebellion of the ego against the Self (God) and with the internal division (of conscious thought against the unconscious, Thinking against Feeling) comes the outer division of "us against them", man against nature, man against himself etc. All of the neglect and abuse we see in the world follows from this (ongoing) event.
The song fits comfortably into the 1974 prog-rock
zeitgeist, even down to the final 'Steve Howe'-sounding guitar solo. The ecological
base of the song fits in with 'River of life' that opened 'Photos of ghosts'.
It goes further, however, by invoking the Japanese God. The idea that the planet
suffers like a living organism (or a personified god) at the hands of ambitious
humans is very reminiscent of the 'Gaia'
hypothesis of James Lovelock, which began to emerge at the end of the 1970's,
although obviously the idea of the Earth having protector gods goes back to
'Just look away' reflects the other side of
PFM's music. A gentle melody is given a sad, rather angry, lyric by Peter Sinfield,
which transforms the whimsy into something rather darker.
Scraping his bow
The old violinist plays out of tune,
Blues on his fingers.
The people hurry by
As he plays upon his corner,
Sometimes throw a coin
And if they see the pain in his eyes
They just look away
Old men in the park
Spitting at the world
Just count the hours
Left up on the shelf,
Trying to keep warm
In an overcoat of memories,
Soon be dead.
The lyrics are a social commentary
on what a young man thinks about growing old. In this respect it is the kind
of folk song becoming fashionable by singer-songwriters (eg 'The street's of
London' by Ralph McTell or 'Bookends' by Paul Simon).
Scraping for fuel
This crazy old world is quite out of tune,
Too many trumpets.
The people hurry by
All looking for a corner
And if they meet a friend
Who asks them to repay some old favour,
They just look away.
The last verse offers
as bleak a view of humanity as ever left the pen of Peter Sinfield:
Old men in the dark
Sitting on the world
Play cards with words,
The devil's harmony.
Each man to himself
In a well cut suit of selfishness,
Just looks away.
In some respects, the final lines
offer a commentary on all of the lyrics on the album: 'Each man to himself,
in a well cut suit of selfishness, just looks away'. Powerful stuff, but it
is carried away by the sweetest tune in all of Italy.
I think "abuse" and "neglect" may just be the watchwords for this album. In The Mountain the "apes" abused nature (the mountain) making a hell out of their natural paradise. The neglect comes in the apes ignoring/neglecting their "better angels" (their higher selves), instead initiating and then perpetuating a path of destruction.
The theme of neglect continues in track two with the title, Just Look Away. If you see suffering despair, loneliness, pain, poverty, just look away. It's not your problem. Each man is an island with no connection to his fellow ape. And, again, we see the inner/outer theme developed. For, just as the people on the street look away at the sight of the impoverished old man, so too are the old men "selfish" and "to themselves". It could be that Just Look Away is an allegory of God as an old man "sitting on the world" and "playing cards (games) with words" (scriptures). We see God (the old man) as selfish and uncaring because we are selfish and uncaring. Yet God is right there on the corner playing "out of tune" with our way of life. It's the devil's harmony.
The relationship of the album's first two tracks is very similar to that of the first two tracks on In the Wake of Poseidon : Pictures of a City and Cadence and Cascade. Musically and thematically there is the obvious juxtaposition of loud/soft. But beyond that we have the first track of each album describing, in general (epic / global) terms, man's "hell' (his dystopia) while the second track of each album appears to be an allegory of the human condition disguised as a simple vignette. (respectively, about a menage a trois and an old man).
The World Became the World is
a masterpiece at the centre of this album. In some ways it is a successor to
The Song of the Seagoat, and in other ways it is a precursor to the ELP song
Pirates. Peter Sinfield uses symbolic language to describe the role of the
poet in the world, which becomes a device to make statements about the changes
in his own personal circumstances. All of this is wrapped up within music that
has a natural majesty and sense of creative development.