By Elena Porciani (Università della Campania “Luigi Vanvitelli”)
Azimut, released in the autumn of 1982 after the summer hit single “Messaggio,” is the album that consecrates Alice as a singer-songwriter. The nine tracks construct a highly nuanced personality, from the musical choices belonging to an intimate singer-songwriter aesthetic, to the screaming grittiness, bordering on rock; from her lyrics that express a personality suffering and distrustful, as in “Una mano” (A Hand), but also a humorous and unconventional perspective, as in “A cosa pensano” (What Are They Thinking).
The song that brings together all these various nuances and perspectives is “Azimut,” featuring a protagonist who does not correspond linearly to the artist, but instead acts as a narrator, one whom would have defined as an alibi of the author: an angel of the house capable of turning into her diabolical alter ego and, thus, representing a vision of women that is powerfully subversive in the panorama of Italian song of the early Eighties.
After the earlier folk period of female singer-songwriters such as Margot and Giovanna Marini, only in this period are women earning a space in the pop music industry which goes beyond the mere performance of songs written by men with their patriarchal-sentimental conception of the feminine universe, in which girls, “piccole e fragili” (small and fragile) or “calde e innocenti” (hot and innocent) as they are, always “andava[no] a piedi nudi per la strada” (went barefoot in the street) wearing that “maglietta fina tanto stretta al punto che s’immaginava tutto” (thin shirt, so close fitting that it leaves nothing to the imagination), to paraphrase some verses from the Seventies now stamped upon our collective memory.
At the beginning of the next decade Alice, like Gianna Nannini and Rettore, is one of the protagonists of this arduous journey of expressive pop music emancipation, which would increasingly take hold in the years to come with figures such as Cristina Donà and Carmen Consoli, but also with long-time artists turned songwriters, such as Loredana Bertè and Nada. Alice’s path, with respect to her contemporaries like Nannini and Rettore, is more intellectual and characterized by an upbeat writing style, which is well suited to her stage name; her songs are in fact liquid mirrors one must cross to enter into a wonderland of elusive and allusive tales, reached through the power of her voice, melancholic as well as obscure.
“Azimut” is the perfect demonstration of this strategy: introduced by the initial synth arpeggio, the first stanza describes a loving and faithful figure, a “gentle butterfly” that chooses her flower and is devoted to him, all taking place within the domestic space of dusting, mending and cooking. Here, however, there is a sudden break, which occurs while reading a symbolic newspaper which records a “special date”: a day which, in reality, was already smoldering “for so long,” unacknowledged, behind the daily routine of angelic housekeeping.
The third stanza brings to light, therefore, a scene in which everything has changed, where the protagonist is no longer the angel, but the “devil of the house,” from a “dead star” which we are unsure if, by mere misunderstanding or desired metonymy, Alice identifies with the Azimuth, which in fact is an astronomical coordinate, unless the “Azimuth” is instead linked with “I am” so that the “I” would become the focal point of a universe much broader than the house of the “gentle butterfly.” We then recognize a touch of realism, not without a humorous nuance, in the pressure weighing down, like a collapse of the domestic bliss that clashes with the memory of the “autumn wind,” a sort of veiled allusion to “Il vento caldo dell’estate” (The Hot Wind of Summer), the smash hit that two years before had won Alice her success. Once again the term “moment” appears: to create a parallel with the previous stanza which, however, is such in appearance only, because the long wait has in fact culminated in her leaving the house.
Here we arrive at the enigmatic fourth verse, which showcases all of Alice’s elusive talent. The new realistic detail of the leaf that caresses her cheek suggests that we find ourselves in a garden or in a wood, in a place that is leafy and mysterious, but open, different from her previous imprisonment, except that the protagonist “pretends as if it’s nothing”: perhaps she still does not wish to be fully conscious of the fact, still does not want to allow herself to escape. But a shadow appears, impalpable and enigmatic, and only by turning around can she understand what it is: the shadow of her vanished house, the evanescent trace of the site of loving fidelity and devotion now gone. Despite the fact that the last verse contains the key to the finale’s resolution, we do not find a true end of the story: the angel-devil contemplates the shadow of a vanished domestic space, but is held in a limbo more metaphysical than literal, in a perfect disturbing tension that inserts the “house that isn’t there” into the initial domestic space. It is understandable, then, that we are light years apart from the visions of femininity popular among mainstream lyricists, populated by innocent little girls or heartless, amoral femmes fatales; rather, this is the azimuth of a new era of female singer-songwriters.