Fred Ventura – The Years Unreleased Demos 1984-87 review

Given his position as one of the overlooked stars of 1980s Italian dance music, it’s perhaps fitting that Italo-obsessed hipsters Italians Do It Better are attempting to give veteran vocalist Fred Ventura a new lease of life. For the uninitiated, Ventura began his career in the early 80s, providing vocals for obscure Italo-disco cuts before finding more success with Bobby O/Pet Shop Boys-ish Eurodisco hits like “Heartbeat”. By the tail end of the 1980s, he had developed a following both in Europe’s gay scene and on daytime radio.

This release could be seen as something of an attempt to celebrate Ventura’s largely little-known contribution to Italian dance music in the 80s. For those with a keen interest in what came after Italo-disco, it’s certainly worth a listen. Most enticingly, these are previously unreleased tracks – demos that were recorded by Ventura between 1984 and 87. “The Years (Go By)” – included in both vocal and instrumental versions – actually sounds surprisingly ‘now’, like brand new Italians Do It Better material. Ventura’s uncomfortable, Italian-singing-in-English vocals soar above the sort of chiming, sparkling European synth-pop backing track that has inspired so many contemporary disco and pop producers. It reminds us of Behaviour-era Pet Shop Boys, but without the knowing wink and Neil Tennant’s lyrical flair.

“You Want Me” provides more dancefloor oomph thanks to a combination of flowing electric pianos (a staple of Italian synth-pop during this period), bouncing electro-funk bass and big chords. But what really makes the track is Ventura’s vocal, which is in parts strangely anthemic and in others curiously off-kilter. Taken as a whole, “You Want Me” sounds like an Italian take on Human League circa Penthouse & Pavement, or ABC had they not hooked up with Trevor Horn.

Wisely, Italians Do It Better have saved the best till last. “Don’t You Want Me” is a joyous blast of disco-pop – all clipped funk guitars, uplifting melodies and thick synth-bass topped off with an urgent vocal from Ventura. It sounds like a long-lost radio hit. It’s the perfect end to a fitting celebration of Italian musical history.

Matt Anniss