Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews
Alan Parsons Project – Six Expanded Edition CDs – Arista/Legacy
Published on February 8, 2009
Pyramid – 1978, 63:39
Eve – 1979, 68:47
The Turn of the Friendly Card -1980, 64:13
Ammonia Avenue – 1984, 63:59
Stereotomy – 1986 , 61:17
Gaudi – 1987, 65:07
(Alan Parsons, autoharp, drum machine, Projectron, clavinet, synthesizer,
vocals; Eric Woolfson, Piano, harpsichord, vocals, plus a rotating cast of musicians, including Ian Bairnson, guitar, Chris Rainbow, vocals, David Patton, bass, and Stuart Elliott, drums and percussion)
You have to wonder: Who is exactly is clamoring for more reissues of albums by the Alan Parsons Project? Even amongst progressive rock fans, the group is considered a bit of a joke. While groups like Yes and ELP can be appreciated in hindsight for their musical ability and endearingly cheesy subject matter, the Alan Parsons Project still sound like what they were: a vanity project for a bunch of nerdy session musicians. A shred of relevance might be attached to the group since none other than Kanye West sampled them for his hit song Heartless, but it’s doubtful most fans of that song would have any interest in the source material.
The batch of reissues starts out with Pyramid, which was inspired by the 70s rage of pyramidology spearheaded by Patrick Flanagan’s book Pyramid Power. Pyramid‘s best songs are its ballads, Shadow of a Lonely Man and Can’t Take It With You. While melodramatic, the ballads at least keep it simple, whereas the rest of the album constantly threatens to collapse under the weight of its own ambition. Without a base of solid songwriting, much of the album sounds “show-offy” and overindulgent, as if the musicians’ main objective was complexity, not quality.
Eve is an unbelievably misogynistic concept album about the evils of women. The lyrics are full of men chastising women for sleeping around and acting phony, two things rock musicians could never be accused of. The songwriting is stronger than on Pyramid, with You Won’t Be There and Winding Me Up as standouts. The former is a decent AOR ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on a soft rock compilation, while the latter has a delightful harpsichord part that reminds me of the Electric Light Orchestra, another progressive rock band far better than APP. Don’t Hold Back, one of the two songs on the album featuring a female vocalist (as if that somehow makes up for the trashing of women elsewhere on the album) sounds like it should have soundtracked some British education film about teenage self-discovery (which, depending on your capacity for ironic appreciation of that kind of thing, is either glorious or irritating; I’ll go with the former).
The Turn of the Friendly Card is yet another concept album (APP released a lot of concept albums), this time about the dangers of gambling. While Games People Play and Time are decent Doobie Brothers and Pink Floyd nods respectively, the rest of the album is pure APP, i.e. pretty dull. Ammonia Avenue is by far the best album of the set with the band’s sleek production and melodramatic lyrics finally resulting in some actual catchy songs. Don’t Answer Me and Dancing On a Highwire could have been 80s soft rock hits.
Stereotomy, the group’s first all digital production, is almost laughably bad. When people complain about how bad music was in the 80s, this is what they’re talking about. The title track is 7 minutes of overproduced guitar and synthesizer rawk with vocalist John Miles yelling out “Sterotomy!” like he’s selling a new kind of sub woofer. Gaudi, the last album in the set, is a concept album about Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi, and while not as terrible as Stereotomy, it’s got all the hallmarks of late period APP: everything sounds like it was made on a synthesizer and all the vocalists over- emote like they’re singing a radio jingle.
The bonus tracks on each of the albums are mostly demos and rough mixes, with the exception of a few lost tracks, including a song from the lost APP album, The Sicilian Defense. Overall, I can’t recommend this box set to anyone but the most diehard APP fans, and do they even need convincing? While I consider myself a fan of progressive rock music and can stomach a lot of cheesy sentiment and unnecessary noodling for the sake of entertainment, nothing APP does can hold a candle to groups like Yes or ELP or Pink Floyd.
- Daniel Krow