ALAN PARSONS, FREE OF THE PROJECT, TRIES ANYTHING ONCE ON HIS PREMIER SOLO ALBUM

The first solo album by Alan Parsons. Fresh from a feud-riddled Freudiana with Eric Woolfson.

Before I begin the review I would like to extend a hearty congratulations to Alan Parsons for his Grammy win for the 35th Anniversary Box Set release of Eye In The Sky. It’s always affirming when Parsons get some recognition for his work outside of the dreadful Pink Floyd album and the even more banal Beatles works. I would have liked to have seen him get more recognition for his I Robot album than he got for the other projects. This is yet another unpopular opinion I am sure, but if you want popular opinion, there are millions of other reviewers towing the label dictate. Read them!

Now…

Rock operas are no damn good! If we learn nothing else from this review, we should be at least advised that rock operas can destroy (what the modern music industry would consider) a golden goose. Imagine, you are the head of a record label. Some guy and his pal come to you with a crazy idea that they are going to do a concept album (a good thing), about Edgar Allan Poe. Now, seeing as the median reader age is just a touch younger than I am, Poe was considered the grandfather of Goth. So that would mean dark, forbidding tales of murder, mayhem, deceit, set to catchy prog-rock style tunes.

You would kick their asses right out of the building, never mind your office…

Except ‘some guy’ is Alan Parsons, fresh off of working with Pink Floyd on Dark Side Of The Moon, and having just hung out with The Beatles during their infamous ‘Rooftop Concert’ (the bloke in the orange shirt). Not to mention Al Stewart’s Year Of The Cat album, and Pilot’s debut album From The Album Of The Same Name. If that’s not familiar to you, I KNOW you have heard the Pilot song “Magic” if in no other form, it was bastardized in the commercial for the drug Ozembic. The other guy? Eric Woolfson who was a minor music mogul in that he was managing several bands. Most notably and recognizably Carl Douglas whose song “Kung Fu Fighting” became an annoyance in the mid-seventies. But most importantly, Woolfson was a songwriter. Something Parsons was still finding his way around, but gaining ground quickly being around Woolfson. They share credit on many Parsons Project songs.

And the label was 20th Century Fox. Now the faithful readers of this rag (all two of you) know how I feel about movie production companies owning record labels. I know each and every band member of Miracle Legion will say the same thing; no damn good. As I alluded to before, 20th Century was given a concept album about Edgar Allan Poe and after it, they gave Parsons/Woolfson the boot.

It was at this point, The Alan Parsons Project would truly begin…

Clive Davis was no fool. Having just launched Arista Records, he knew The Project had something to offer. He signed them and released what I feel is TRULY their first album, I Robot. My position on that was, it was the first album of theirs I was exposed to. The sonics, the production, all made an indelible impression on this young audio/music enthusiast! To ME, that was the Parsons Project sound.

The rock opera Freudiana would be the final straw in the camel’s back that would end one of the most successful music duos since Hall & Oates. Think of it, all the hits The Alan Parsons Project would generate, ” I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”, “Games People Play”, “Damned If I Do”, “Time”, “Eye In The Sky” “Don’t Answer Me” and how can you possibly escape the monolith that “Sirius” would become. You HAVE heard this. If you’ve ever been to a sporting event, watch TV, movies, cartoons, YOU HAVE HEARD THIS…

So when you have a pocket full of cash like Parsons does (The Chicago Bulls license this in perpetuity as their ‘theme’ song), why bother getting back into an industry as dirty as the record industry has become? Because it’s in him! It’s hard to explain to those who don’t have it in them. That thing that overtakes one when one learns an instrument, and when one learns and plays their first song all the way through? Like Manna… It is an internal almost addiction. If you have music inside you that you have to get out, and you have the means to do so, it becomes an internal nagging sensation that does not abate until you pick the instrument up and start letting it out.

That was enough to lure Parsons back into the artist role after years away from releasing albums under his name. Not to mention the advancements made in music technology afterwards. Yet even to this point, Parsons had been more in the production/engineering aspect than the songwriting aspect. For whatever reason known only to Parsons, he brought in songs written by others as well as some compositions of his own with some collaborations to gather enough material to make the Try Anything Once album. While many of the former members of The Project appear on and even write songs for this album, because of the absence of Woolfson, Parsons was more comfortable billing it as a solo album.

So we might get the sound, but the songs will be different. It’s Parsons first solo album. Let’s hope it lives up to the Project…

The disc starts off with a jaunty tune about schizophrenia, “The Three Of Me”  written by David Pack and Andrew Powell. Percussive keyboard stabs start us into uncharted territory as synths swell to bring in piano notes gliding through the piece. The full band and symphony come in to form our rhythm built more around the piano than the stabs. The pattern gives way to a glissando break before a very funky takeover for the meat of the song. The second verse line features very prog-like breaks. The chorus bridge is quite dreamy about mental issues.

After a slight break we go back into funky town. We follow that prog format to a hold that features a piano sequence into a guitar solo which gives way to a tacky horror movie soundtrack.

Parsons gives you it all!

We form back into the verse structure. The lyrics are stunning, humorous looks at the voices in the head, losing control and such.

“So I pick up the phone

Someone’s asking of me

Is the real Mr. Jones

Mister One, Two or Three?”

 

I’m sorry but that shit’s hilarious!

Let’s talk about the rhythm track. Their is a cutting, front pickup Strat part that is just pounding away over the tighter-than-your-grandmother’s-canning-jars rhythm section and it’s Parsons, so you know the production is eat-off-of-it clean.

When the chorus bridge comes up, it’s a half time break, very unhurried and, almost floating if you will. All about being off one’s rocker… With a manic piano part running over that bass and drums combo that, during this part, take sole possession of the song. Ending on the line, “why are they laughing at me?’…

Next up is a tune by guitarist Ian Bairnson, “Turn It Up”. It runs right in back of “Three Of Me” with a sequencer drum intro. Mild keys accompany those drums as the high ends come in with a droning guitar.

The lyrics talk about committing to things. The verses are lackluster, the bridge is soft, and the chorus of “Turn It Up…” is a light attempt at rock. You would think the guitarist would want to present something more rock, but this is more techno than rock. But it does sound like an Alan Parson’s song.

The second verse is about the suffering and injustice in the world. Reminder, this disc was recorded in 1993. The last verse is about finding something to believe in. All very trite until the synth layered ambient break.

Some lovely refreshments?

A pan flute synth solo perhaps? Over a totally new rhythm track? One that DOES rock in accordance with being written by a guitar player. And the obligatory major kick-ass solo to boot!

We reboot the bridge and chorus with new found vigor, as if someone turned it up, made it louder…

The very same Rhodes piano sound we grew to love on I Robot is represented on “Wine From Water” written by Parsons and Bairnson. A slick track features smooth vocals by Eric Stewart.

Basically it sounds like the musings of a con-man-huckster-magician. The backing vocals are vintage Parson’s Project. We get a couple of verses of that, then after more bragging bridges, we are treated to some hot guitar solo over the “count your money while I check your hand” section.

We get more verses that would seem at home on Turn Of A Friendly Card. Then into the “Wine from water” bragging choruses. We repeat this with increasing synths and a clean Strat solo. The vocal ad libs on the way out to a suspended whole note end. Nice!

“Breakaway” is an instrumental from Parsons. It starts off with some harmonic sequencing. After a swell, a very I Robot bass line percolates under the track, while a sax just moves in and takes over. Another few swells and just after the bass sounds some melody, the track starts in at full. The next go-round has some minor drums, but leads to a change break with some guitar melodies and synth pads.

An ascending break leads us into something that, frankly, sounds kind of ‘Footloosey’ to my tired old ears. But when they pull out to the guitar break it gets back more of its  Parsoney flavor. Then back to Footloose.

Those bass notes come back to signal more sequencers to the ending. This one I dunno about…

“Mr Time” starts off a little more befitting an Alan Parsons track. A synth pad and big-sky guitar solo set the mood in this Stuart Elliot/Jacque Copeland/and someone credited as Driscoll composition. A cursory glance at the lyrics would lead one to believe this is about Father Time, Baby New Year, and the Grim Reaper all rolled into one. But I stink at interpreting lyrics…

Some shimmering synths gloss things up. When the muffled guitar develops a rhythm, that’s the cue for the vocals.

And let’s talk about those vocals. Upon first listen, to my ears, the vocalist could fit right in on the Eve album (my fave!). Evocative of Claire Torry and Leslie Duncan for sure. Copeland fits right into the Parsons sound!

It’s just vocal and guitar until the second verse structure forms as the band fills the rhythm track up. The instrumental bridge leads up to a chorus structure that reinforces what I said about sounding like Eve-era Parsons.

Live drums and the sequencer play around up until the bass slap section yields way to a subtle build, filled with drama and expectation, yet making the listener yield themselves… TO TIME!

We rejoin right into the verse but only one verse before the percussion-aided break with pads and guitar accenting and chiming in. We get a chorus section again and naturally things build up as Parsons is wont to do on this album. The ending line is killer:

“And who can tell you what they knew,

When Mr. Time, comes for you.”

Things do boil down before we end. A guitar solo is seemingly in order for some reason… A little too Mark Knoffler for my liking. All to end on a low synth drone.

As one might expect, a very Celtic-sounding violin (read: fiddle) intros “Jigue”, composed by Parsons and Powell. Please don’t let this go down the ‘Celtic Woman’ franchise road!?!?!?!? It pretty much does until more vintage Parsons is whipped out in the form of a harmonized guitar very much like the one heard on “Dr. Tarr And Professer Feather” from the Tales Of Mystery And Imagination album. That gives way to the same phrase done with just a couple of harmonies and more distortion.

We regress into a rocked-up Celtic nightmare. Castanets? Really? A nylon string guitar? Come on! But now it’s even sadder as now it is starting to sound more like Lindsey Stirlings than Alan Parsons. Wait, was Lindsey Stirling even born then? Oh yeah, NOBODY CARES! And if that’s not bad enough, and by damn don’t you think it ought to be, Parsons flings some Al Stewart “Year Of The Cat” sax solo at the wall to see if it will stick.

This resolves into more sequencing and right into “I’m Talkin’ To You” written by Pack and Powell. Electric piano and guitar build into the most rock tune yet. Vocals by David Pack make it very Parsons Project-like. Basic break-up lyrics sung in that inimitable style that only Pack can deliver.

Right in the middle of the steady rocking verses, a half-break that is also great feature of Pack’s voice and reflective of Parsons of old. Not surprised if this one was shopped as a single.

Right after the half-break, a symphonic break likened to that of one you’d find on Eye In The Sky or Pyramid. Again, this part sound SO reminiscent of early Parsons, but with the next break part, it harkens back to his work with Stink Floyd on Puke Side Of The Harmp.

We go back to a brief verse then into a half note break with guitar solo and the lyrics leading back to the Floyd break which also has some other previous Parsons employers, The Beatles.

Yay…

We get one more verse that’s syncopated in a manner of speaking. The lead vocal ignores beats vs. syllables for the line about falling out of time. Cute. As the final lines of the verse sound, the backing vocalists repeat the first line, then the second as Pack holds the lead note, only to yield after the second backing vocal line. They end after the second “I’m talking to you” lyric, and end on a chord that puts me in the mind of the final chord from Eve‘s “Don’t Hold Back”.

“Siren Song” smells a lot like “Day After Day (The Show Must Go On)” from  I Robot. This can’t be that much of a surprise as co-writer Bairnson was on said track. Written with Frank Musker (?!?!?!), they may have just as easily used “Day After Day” as a template for this song. The chords and lyrics are different, but you KNOW the feel is somewhere between “Day…” and “Time” from Turn Of A Friendly Card. If you could read these lyrics, they constantly send call backs to previous lyrics from various APP albums. I think Parsons wanted to mess around with new equipment at Parsonics, and he went with musicians and techniques he was familiar with to facilitate easier adaptation to new digital work environments.

Just a notion, a thought, or perhaps the lilting, lullaby of “Siren Song” lured me into some kind of Dreamscape…

I use that term as our next track is called “Dreamscape” written by Parsons. Synths and guitar and an instrumental. It’s cool, I grew up on a steady diet of Eno…

Swells and solos, pan flute sounds, clean electric lead, synth sound effects, some minor hints at melody, change, structure. Not the most boring instrumental ever…

Soundtrack for…?

The haunting “Back Against The Wall” by Bairnson is next. Some rhythmic muted guitar notes and clavarhodes synth lead up to the vocals. Second verse full band accompany the lyrics about desperation. Yeah, that’s it, the track sounds desperate as the lyrics.

It has bluesy undertones. But even this has past Parsons overtones to it. Certainly the most gritty tune on the disc. Right after the sixth verse pattern, the rhythm section breaks into a new vibe of cacophony to rhythm to blues in on stanza!

The final chorus line sounds glorious with the backing vocals and musical embellishments until they slow the track down for the last line. And a flanged note carries into (of all things)…

“Re-Jigue” is Andrew Powell’s excuse to flex his symphonic muscle as he’s rolled in the Philharmonia for this track written with Parsons. So picture your favorite symphonic section from any Parsons album (sounds like something off of Eye In The Sky, maybe the symphony bridge in “Silence And I”?). Throw in the rock rhythm section and there you have it.

A very pensive flute solo starts off the melancholy “Oh Life (There Must Be More)” written by Pack and Parsons. The lyrics detail someone pondering a one way dip in the sea.

Piano takes over with some synths to start the song. The synths back off for the lead vocal. Second line brings bass and minor drums until the piano returns from the opening. The next verse is still populated by all instruments, but they are playing back and down. The lyrics build up during the verses to an ‘optimistic’ sounding bridge/chorus.

We go back to an ornamented verse. Then we come across an ascending bridge. THe optimistic bridge is more robust in the inverted lyrical meaning. As the music became more optimistic, the lyrics talk of losing more hope.

Oh yeah, obligatory guitar solo before section change. That change detailing what time the act will occur. The lead out is the repeating of “There must be more, there must be more, oh life I’m barely holding on, there must be more, there must be more, oh life, there must be something more.”

But unfortunately there is no more after the swirling piano ending.

Now I know you are thinking ‘why isn’t this a Friday Flashback?’ and that answer is, because it is impossible for me to flashback, to something I have never owned. This is all new to me. And I must say, while it is the first time I have encountered this album, I felt like I was meeting an old friend for the first time. Familiar yet new. I would have to recommend this album for the Parsons completist collectors out there. It was great fun to pick out the various call backs to previous Project albums. It is a legitimate Alan Parsons release, even on Arista records. So you do have to have this in your collection. The songwriting may not be as on-par to the albums that were constantly billed as written by Parsons/Woolfson on just about EVERY song. But they are reflective of where the Project would have been and was at the time. Had I known about this in 1993, it might have stemmed my longing for new Project stuff.

Might have

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: