Alan Parsons


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Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1976), 7/10
I Robot (1977), 6.5/10
Pyramid (1978), 6/10
Eve (1979), 5/10
The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980), 6.5/10
Eye In The Sky (1982), 6/10
Ammonia Avenue (1984), 5/10
Vulture Culture (1985), 4/10
Stereotomy (1986), 6/10
Gaudi (1987), 6/10
Freudiana (1990), 6.5/10
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Alan Parsons worked as a sound engineer on the Beatles' Abbey Road and the Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of the Moon, two of the most lushly arranged albums of all time. He then became an equally successful producer. In 1976 he and keyboardist Eric Woolfson formed the Alan Parsons Project and released Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Arista, 1976), a concept album based on Edgar Allan Poe's stories that borrowed from different genres to decorate the gothic themes: the languid and folk-ish A Dream Within a Dream, the Deep Purple-esque hard-rock of The Tell-tale Heart, the orchestral operetta-style aria of The Cask of Amontillado, the Yes-style Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, etc. Towering over the songs, the five-movement suite The Fall Of The House Of Usher that floats over simple melodies, mostly with suspenseful strings and no drums, ending with a cascade of lugubrious organ chords. This debut established his tradition of making only concept albums (mostly composed by Woolfson) and using a revolving cast of guest vocalists and sessionmen. Generous doses of synthesizers allowed Parsons to sculpt ambitious quasi-symphonic architectures that would remain his trademark.

After the gothic theme of its debut album, the Project proceeded to deal with sci-fi on I Robot (1977), whose instrumentals (the synth fantasia I Robot and the droning strings of Nucleus) and choral pieces (the monolithic Total Eclipse and the elegiac Genesis Ch. 1 V. 32) are among the most intriguing of Parsons' career. I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You is the archetype of Parsons' disco-funk jams, and The Voice shares the same intuition of the Bee Gees's Saturday Night Fever. The album spans a broad range of styles, from the bombastic brass fanfare of Some Other Time to romantic ballad with piano and strings Don't Let It Show. The band's original formula had been watered down to yield songs that could flood the radios.

Pyramid (1978), dedicated to ancient Egypt, which still features some I Robot-style instrumentals (In The Lap Of The Gods, that transitions from ceremonial gongs to brass fanfare, the fibrillating electronic disco-music of Hyper-Gamma-Spaces), and Eve (1979), which includes the frenzied folk-symphonic instrumentals Lucifer and Secret Garden, were lame imitations of the early albums.

The progress towards soft-rock and MOR balladry began with The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980), their most electronic album yet, again mostly composed by Woolfson, that contains May Be a Price to Pay (a blend of funk, orchestral and soul), Games People Play (with Yes-style choral vocals and baroque keyboards), Time (a slow, somnolent Pink Floyd-ian lullaby), the funky instrumental The Gold Bug and the 16-minute five-monument suite The Turn of a Friendly Card, a gentle multi-stylistic excursion into folk-rock, disco/funk, prog-rock and country-rock.

That run of orchestral pop muzak led to the awfully commercial Eye In The Sky (1982), whose soft and catchy Eye In The Sky became Parsons' best seller (the Pink Floyd-ian funk instrumental Mammagamma is the other highlight). Ammonia Avenue (1984) added the super-catchy Don't Answer Me to the best-seller list. Vulture Culture (1985) was uniformly bland.

Parsons decided to restore a bit of artistic prestige to his career with Stereotomy (1986), whose lengthy ballads (the seven-minute pounding dance-pop shuffle Stereotomy and the dreamy six-minute Light Of The World) and futuristic instrumentals (Urbania, yet another trivial funk dance, the pulsing and vibrant seven-minute Where's The Walrus, one of the peaks of his disco-music, Chinese Whispers) rank among Parsons' most elaborate compositions (although, ultimately, they are all variations on electronic dance music).

Even better was Gaudi (1987), which sounds more like a philosophical treaty than a pop album. The nine-minute La Sagrada Familia fuses folk elegy, classical music, flamenco and soul shouting. There is atmospheric dance-pop (Closer to Heaven), stomping dancefloor numbers (Standing on Higher Ground) and even a ZZ Top-style electronic boogie (Money Talks).

Freudiana (1990), which took three years to complete and employed dozens of musicians, is a sort of opera that spans a variety of genres. It opens with the grandiose propulsive overture The Nirvana Principle but then intones a six-minute pop-soul ballad, Freudiana. It gets lost in a lot of soft arena-pop (Far Away From Home), including a piano elegy sung by a woman (Don't Let the Moment Pass), but it also winks at the operetta and the musichall (Sects Therapy, No One Can Love You Better Than Me, the cartoonish Funny You Should Say That in the vein of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and Little Hans, a Beatles-ian march a` la Eleanor Rigby). Best is when Parsons blends different tones and different traditions, like Beyond the Pleasure Principle, which is both orchestral music, hard-rock and fusion-jazz.

Try Anything Once (1993) and The Time Machine (1999) are the later albums.

Countless anthologies have summarized Parsons' career: The Best of The Alan Parsons Project (1983), The Best of The Alan Parsons Project - vol. 2 (1987), The Instrumental Works (1988), Anthology (1991) , The Ultimate Collection (1992), The Best of The Alan Parsons Project (1992), The Definitive Collection (1997), Gold Collection (1998), Encore Collection (1999), etc.

Woolfson became a composer of musicals: Gaudi (1993), that incorporates music from the album, Gambler (1996), Dancing Shadows and Edgar Allan Poe, premiered shortly before his death in december 2009.

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