The Alan Parsons Live Project, news, interview, radio feature (February 2015)
Sony Legacy [Release date 31.03.14]
Alan Parsons almost redefined the idea of the concept album in 1976. Parsons was famously the assistant engineer at Abbey Road and got his hands on the latter Beatles albums. Together with his musical partner, lyricist Eric Woolfson, he crafted some sonically immaculate and always beautifully executed offerings of his own. Those who usually associate the pair with heavy-going, thought provoking, progressively-inclined fare may be surprised that much of the content is actually melodic rock/AOR and very accessible.
The debut album Tales Of Mystery And Imagination , one of 11 in this collection, brought together spoken word and lavish soundscapes and was to set the tone for future excursions. It pre-dated Jeff Wayne and his ‘War Of The Worlds’ in the blending of narration, verse and music.
The albums always used a plethora of the best session players and vocalists. It is the 1987 remix of the debut that is included here with contributions from Arthur Brown, John Miles and the core band of Ian Bairnson, David Paton and Stuart Tosh (who all had some success in the seventies pop band Pilot) The music evokes the best of prog, Floyd-esque in places as you might expect: Parsons had also engineered The Dark Side Of The Moon. ****
The follow-up I Robot consisted of mainly more pithy, funkier, pieces. The instrumental title track is nicely insistent whilst the album actually spawned three singles. Although ‘Total Eclipse’ is more experimental. ****
1978′s Pyramid saw the first involvement of Colin Blunstone on ‘The Eagle Will Rise Again’. But it was Dean Ford (Marmalade) who co-vocalled the excellent ‘What Goes Up’. ****
The following year Eve includes a vocal from Clare Torry (‘Don’t Hold Back’) and the late Lesley Duncan (‘If I Could Change Your Mind’) and the single ‘Damned If I Do’. ****
1980′s The Turn Of A Friendly Card might be the most consistent of all the albums and it has the opening triple whammy of ‘May Be A Price To Pay’, ‘Games People Play’ and ‘Time’. The latter features one of two Eric Woolfson vocals and smacks a little bit of ‘Us And Them’. The 16-minute title track is really a suite, and features Chris Rainbow (Camel) on vocals. *****
Parsons’ and Woolfson’s prodigious one-album-a-year output was broken for Eye In The Sky which came out in 1982. Retaining Chris Rainbow gives the title track a somewhat Camel vibe again but overall this album vies with its predecessor for accessibility (and is their best-selling effort) and is topped with the wonderful Colin Blunstone-fronted ‘Old And Wise’. ****1/2
1984′s Ammonia Avenue produced a major hit single with ‘Don’t Answer Me’ and the album as a whole can be regarded as the band’s commercial peak. Although we have reached the mid-eighties there is little evidence of the period (the ubiquitous drum machine or cheesy synths) and in fact Parsons’ taste and expertise dictates that most of these albums are relatively untainted by the age in which they were created. And, as ever, he always manages to include an excellent instrumental. This time, the attractive ‘Pipeline’ with Mel Collins on sax. ****1/2
Vulture Culture (1984) was originally intended as part of a double album with ‘Ammonia Avenue’ and similarly consists of shorter commercial songs but perhaps not quite as memorable. The album achieved some success in Germany, including the single – and Supertramp-esque - ‘Don’t Talk About Me’ – whilst the Chris Rainbow-fronted ‘Days Are Numbers (The Traveller)’ is another standout. ****
1985′s Stereotomy marked a departure from the band’s pithy, more pop-based approach and produced the long instrumental ‘Where’s The Walrus?’ which is like a less frenetic ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’. Apart from this and the excellent title track plus another instrumental – ‘Urbania’ – the album is a little patchy and in spite of a Gary Brooker guest vocal on ‘Limelight’. ***1/2
Anyone who has visited Barcelona will be captivated by the work of Gaudi and the final APP album – released in 1987 – was inspired by the architect’s work. Although all the albums have an underlying theme, Gaudi marked a return to the more explicit concept album and in that sense the wheel had turned full circle. Again, it’s a solid offering punctuated by the infectious ‘Too Late’. ***1/2
The final album in this set is the previously unreleased The Sicilian Defence, originally recorded under pressure from their label and subsequently shelved. It’s all instrumental and perhaps best described as “new age”. Although named after opening moves in a chess game it comes over more as the long lost soundtrack to a film noir. It’s probably not essential but makes a nice addition to this package. ***
This boxed set is a wonderful introduction to an influential artist. Overall, the albums stand up well and the production especially is timeless as you might expect.
All albums are faithfully wrapped in facsimilie card sleeves (gatefold as appropriate) – significant also because the artwork (most by Hipgnosis) is always intriguing – and a booklet lists all the credits although there is no essay (but arguably this gives us some respite from Malcolm Dome). The lyrics are also absent from the booklet so in that sense you are not really getting the full hit. These were concept pieces and tell a story.
Collectors should note that these albums have previously been reissued with bonus tracks (in 2007/8) and all are straight reissues of the originals, with the exception of the debut.
Those who like Camel, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Supertramp, 10cc, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and other quintessentially English prog (or semi-prog) bands will find something of interest here. As the individual star ratings indicate there is a surprising consistency and – whilst there have been many compilations over the years – this boxed set, if not quite definitive, takes some beating. ****
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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