ITALY: Maggese - Cesare Cremonini
Updated: Jan 20
Moving on from his pop rock days, Cesare Cremonini's sophomore effort is a sophisticated pop album with an arty and classical edge
Cesare Cremonini first came to prominence in Italy with the release of 1999’s …squérez?, the first and only album released with his band Lunapop. The piano pop style was immediately popular, and the album has some undeniable hit songs, such as the catchy 50 Special, Cremonini was keen to break out from the pop rock stylings of his former band once they split up in 2002. His sophomore effort was Maggese, the album that spawned one of his most successful singles, and cemented his position in Italy as a songwriter and singer to be reckoned with.
“From the clean piano playing, the horns, the organs, the middle eight where the horns and clarinet go into a musical break and Cremonini sings “it’s cold but it’s London!”, it couldn’t be more Beatles-esque.”
The album has a sophisticated pop edge to it. The instrumentation is lush, with a full band behind him consisting of pianos, guitars, drums, and bass, alongside strings, horns, Hammond organs, as well as synths. In addition, the final four tracks, Carillion and Linda & Moreno Parte I,II,III, are where Cremonini gets to show off his classical music roots. The album probably didn’t need those four final classical piano tracks, as it pushes the album to almost an hour in length, but they definitely do not detract from the album. At best they add a pleasant coda to a nice sophisti-pop album, at worst, they could be considered an ego trip. Fortunately, I rather like its inclusion, even if it wasn’t entirely necessary for the album. It does serve one purpose, however, and that is to show a complete change of tack from his earlier days as an exuberant pop rocker.
Cremonini is perhaps on surest footing when singing about love, heartbreak, and relationships, and it’s not a coincidence that the best songs on the album relate to those topics. The title track is a particularly beautiful song, sounding a lot like an Italian Penny Lane. The Beatles influence is felt throughout the album, but on this track in particular. From the clean piano playing, the horns, the organs, the middle eight where the horns and clarinet go into a musical break and Cremonini sings “it’s cold but it’s London!”, it couldn’t be more Beatles-esque. It’s not a rip-off, however, it’s a loving tribute to an incredible band who have clearly been an influence on Cremonini, as well as most musicians since the 1960s. It is also lyrically very strong. Maggese is an Italian word meaning fallow, or fallow land more specifically in this case, as Cremonini recounts the aftermath of a break-up, and the hardships that follow. In the end, the chorus has a strikingly positive refrain.
Ogni volta, ogni maggese, che ritorna
A dar vita a un seme
Sarà vita nuova anche per me
The above means “every time, every fallow period, that returns life to a seed, will be new life for me as well”, which I feel adds a poignant element to what could be a standard break up song. The preceding lyrics speak of Cremonini’s sadness and pain at being unable to get over the end of the relationship, but the chorus provides the listener with hope. The months will pass, and hopefully, he will be able to rejuvenate and grow. This album also contains Cremonini’s most famous and successful single, Marmellata #25, another great song about the end of a relationship. This might be my favourite song on the album, though Maggese gives it a good run for its money. It too is more interesting than it might initially seem. It is again a song about heartbreak, but this time Cremonini finds himself burying his sorrows in “chili di marmellata” – kilos of jam, to me and you. It’s slightly comic but also melancholy. It’s another song about being stuck in second gear and attempting to move on from a devastating break up, but Cremonini is able to present them in a unique manner with a bittersweet outlook that is reflected in the music itself.
I also have a soft spot for the songs Ancora un po’ and Sardegna. The former is rockier, the latter is acoustic and soft, similar in style to the Napolitano folk singer Enzo Gragnaniello, though it too yields to the sound that Cremonini seems most comfortable in, which is soft, smooth balladeering. If I have a problem with the album, its that Cremonini tries to do too much in it. None of the songs are particularly bad, but they are all rather similar in style and theme, and after a while it gets repetitive. When I’ve gone back to listen to some of the latter songs in isolation like Amami or Momento Silenzioso, I really like them – Cremonini has a great ear for a resonant hook - but in the context of the album, it is too much. The classical music finale does provide variety, but as aforementioned, it isn’t really in-keeping with the overriding musical aesthetic. Overall, however, it is a good album, with many good songs and a couple of great ones. There’s enough invention in there for it to be interesting upon relisten, and it’s accessible enough for someone not to be put off by his occasional flights of fancy.