Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

The Alan Parsons – I Robot/Legacy Edition – Legacy Records/Arista Records (2 CDs)

Re-mastered progressive rock classic is timeless!

Published on October 16, 2013

The Alan Parsons – I Robot/Legacy Edition – Legacy Records/Arista Records (2 CDs) 88883718652, 79:04 [9/17/13] *****:

(Alan Parsons – keyboards, electronics, programming, acoustic guitar, Vocoder, projectron, vocals; Eric Woolfson – keyboards, piano, organ, clavinet, vocals; Ian Bairnson – guitar, vocals; David Paton – bass, acoustic guitar, vocals; Stuart Tosh – drums, percussion; Hilary Western – vocals; Lenny Zakatek – vocals; Peter Straker – vocals; Jaki Whitren – vocals; John Leach – cimbalom, Kantele; Allan Clarke – vocals; Dave Townsend – vocals; Steve Harley – vocals; Duncan Mackay – synthesizer, Jack Harris – vocal; Andrew Powell – Hammond organ, choir and orchestra cond. & arrangements; B.J. Cole – pedal steel guitar; Tony Rivers/John Perry/Stuart Salver – vocals; with The English Chorale & The New Philharmonia Chorus)

Despite the name, The Alan Parsons Project is a duo. Parsons was a renowned engineer at Abbey Road Studios and began to produce bands. Eric Woolfson was a gifted songwriter who was searching for a creative outlet. The resulting partnership would make a serious impact on the seventies rock world. Their first collaboration, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination (based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe) established their progressive/classical rock presence with modest success. Clive Davis took notice of Parsons and Woolfson and signed them to Arista Records (at the time the only rock band on the label). For the next release, they decided to set music to the Isaac Asimov novel I, Robot. Drawing on the various influences of progressive rock, including classical/rock orchestration, modern technology and potent synthesized sound, I Robot (Asimov gave his blessing to the venture, but due to a conflict, the comma had to be removed from the title) became the signature accomplishment of the band. Ten songs, including four instrumentals, created a musical portrait of a future society where humans and robots attempt to co-exist. The album was a success and 35 years later, a 2-CD set has been released.

CD 1 is a crisp re-mastering of the original album. The self-titled opening cut is a pulsating instrumental anchored by the rhythm section (Ian Bairnson/guitar; David Paton/bass and Stuart Tosh/drums). Then the trademark layered synthesizers (Parsons, Duncan Mackay), clavinet (Woolfson, who also plays keyboards on the album) and unusual stringed instruments (cimbalom, Kantele/John Leach) gradually infiltrate.  For extra measure, there is a wordless soprano vocal (Hilary Western) and full choir (The English Chorale). This full texture defines The Alan Parsons Project. Next is a straight ahead groove-rocker “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” featuring the voice of Lenny Zakatec (lead singer of Gonzales). This single put the group on the charts. The use of different vocalists gives each song a unique feel. Peter Straker and Jaki Whitren (respectively on verse and chorus) provide subtle paranoia on “Some Other Time”. Like all of the material the instrumental backing is rich and precise.

Woolfson’s lyrics are dark and moody but reveal a tender sentiment. “Don’t Let It Show” (featuring Dave Townsend) is emotional, and the addition of a piccolo trumpet (John Wallace) enhances the ambiance. Most of the singers blend in with the instrumentals. But Alan Clarke’s (Hollies) searing performance on “Breakdown” draws the music to his singing. In a dramatic conclusion, orchestra and a chanting chorale refrain (“…Freedom, freedom, we will not obey. Freedom, freedom, take the wall away…”) becomes mesmerizing. The eerie uncertainty of modern technology is palpable, especially on “The Voice”. But the gloominess is offset by melancholic optimism on “Day After Day (The Show Must Go On)”.

The inherent musicianship is flawless, and technically superb. Parsons and Woolfson weave a sound mosaic on keyboards and synthesizer. Andre Powell’s orchestra and choir arrangements reinforce the rock format with classical intensity and radiance. There might be some comparisons to Pink Floyd (looping, state-of-the-art synthesizers and spacey jams), but this music can stand on its own. “Nucleus”, “Total Eclipse” and “Genesis Ch. 1.V.32” underscore the connection to science fiction, but with The Alan Parson Project spin on instrumental exploration.

Bonus material For I Robot is attention-grabbing. There are some compelling isolated vocals. Hilary Western delivers piercing, operatic notes on “I Robot (Vocal Rehearsal)”.  And The New Philharmonia Chorus offers spine-tingling resonance on “Breakdown (Choir)” and “Genesis  CH.1 V. 32 (Choir Session)”. Demos of songs give insight into the creative process. A version of “Some Other Time” showcases Jaki Whiten on lead vocals. An instrumental mix of “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” demonstrates the raw vitality of this composition. The CD closes with a ten minute mix of various instrumental passages.  Liner notes by Parsons supply anecdotal commentary about the making of the album and the genesis of the band. I Robot/Legacy Edition is a rock milestone. [Too bad it’s not available in multichannel form...Ed.]

TrackList:

CD 1: I Robot; I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You; Some Other Time; Breakdown; Don’t Let It Show; The Voice; Nucleus; Day After Day (The Show Must Go On); Total Eclipse; Genesis Ch.1.V.32

CD2: U.S. Radio Commercial; Boules; I Robot (Vocal Rehearsal); Extract 1; Extract 2; I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You; Some Other Time; Breakdown (Choir); Extract 3; Breakdown (The Choir); Don’t Let It Show; Day After Day; Genesis Ch.1.V.32; The Naked Robot

—Robbie Gerson




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