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Class ?

Main Category: Prog Rock
Also applicable: Art Rock, Lush Pop, Synth Pop
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



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Year Of Release: 1976
Overall rating =

Works well overall, but long instrumental pieces are not this guy's forte.


Track listing: 1) A Dream Within A Dream; 2) The Raven; 3) The Tell-Tale Heart; 4) The Cask Of Amontillado; 5) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether; 6) The Fall Of The House Of Usher - I. Prelude; 7) II. Arrival; 8) III. Intermezzo; 9) IV. Pavane; 10) V. Fall; 11) To One In Paradise.

If you ever doubted the crucial importance of Alan Parsons to the whole Dark Side Of The Moon shenanigan - or if you never knew who the guy was in the first place - take a listen to this. Go ahead and try, it won't bite you, even if it is a progressive rock album released in the same year with Ramones. All the lush, dreamy, otherworldly atmospheric elements of DSOTM are present, and the crystal clear sound quality - some of the best ever achieved by mankind before computerkind took over completely - is evident.

What Alan Parsons lacked the power to bring along, of course, were the musical talents of the Floydsters: neither the guitar pyrotechnics of Gilmour nor the songwriting skills of Waters. In that respect, the first of the Alan Parsons Projects certainly cannot be held in the same league as DSOTM. But there's a time for "best" and then there's a time for "good", and of the record being "good" there is absolutely no doubt in this reviewer's mind, especially upon comparing it with Alan Parsons' late Seventies/early Eighties soft-synth-pop hits. That later epoch may have been spent under the mighty dollar sign, but in 1976, Alan Parsons was most definitely working for art, and he had plenty of vision to go along with it.

Either for the slow-witted or for the illiterate, or just because Alan and Eric Woolfson sort of felt like it, the album sports the subtitle Edgar Allan Poe. Indeed this is essentially an attempt at a musical interpretation for several of the writer's tales/poems, which include well-known classics like 'The Raven' and 'The Cask Of Amontillado' along with lesser things like 'The Tell-Tale Heart' and 'Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether', and then culminates in a lengthy symphonic representation of 'The Fall Of The House Of Usher'. The idea might seem corny and pretentious, but, come to think of it, not more so than the idea of screening Edgar Poe or, in fact, any other writer. It's simply that you don't really mess around with the memory of a great artist unless you can come up with something at least almost as great as said artist could, and that's not a very high probability, is it? Especially if you're working within the "commercial prog-rock" formula of the mid-Sixties.

On the other hand, there is at least one obvious advantage to this kind of thing: by taking a great artist's conceptual ideas and dressing them up in clothes of your own making, you can at least rest assured that, provided you have a clear understanding of these conceptual ideas, nobody will dismiss your work with an exclamation of "what a bunch of assholish nonsense!". At worst, people will call you boring. Since few will have the gall - or the itch - to dismiss Edgar Poe, even fewer will have both to dismiss Tales Of Mystery And Imagination. So, despite coming out at a rather unhappy time for the art/prog rock genre, the album seems to have a moderately fair reputation with the critics. It also has a moderately fair reputation with me.

Since the Project was never all that stable apart from Parsons and Woolfson (in fact, this wasn't even a proper band name in the beginning - it really was just an 'Alan Parsons project'), I won't be naming any individual players - let's just mention that the instrumentation is very far from being limited to just Alan Parsons' keyboards. There's plenty of orchestration and horns, and quite a bit of acoustic and electric guitars where needed - there's nothing overtly sickening or monotonous about the performances. The vocal jobs are handed by Woolfson, John Miles and ex-Hollies member Terry Sylvester (Parsons seems to have a passion for early Sixties' Britpop vocalists - another Hollies member, Alan Clarke, as well as ex-Zombies vocalist Colin Bluntstone would be frequent guests on his subsequent albums, much to their embellishment), and, apart from Arthur Brown's screeching vocal parts on 'Tell-Tale Heart' which really belong in a separate category, the singing is excellent throughout.

What's with the melodies, then? You know the style; the actual melodies, then, are not among the most memorable ever written, but when there are actual melodies, they're definitely not worse than on an average Floyd album. The rendition of 'The Raven', today probably the best remembered tune on the album, is lush and energetic at the same time, alternating from quiet New Age-style panoramas to rockin' outbursts in the chorus. The song never becomes boring - some of the vocals are electronically encoded, some are clear and gentle, and the Westminster City School Boys Choir comes in at times to add extra solemnity. Throw in a rampant guitar solo and a catchy chorus - if you ever wanted to know how you could bring extra catchiness to the "quoth the Raven 'nevermore'" bit, here's a good way to do it. Of course, I'm not sure myself whether Mr Poe would be happy with this interpretation, way too twentieth-century-like for his original vision. But so what?..

The other minor hit from the album (and yes, it actually boasted hits - UK audiences took to Parsons at once; then again, who knows, maybe if Dave Gilmour's tailor took to performing, they'd push him up the charts as well) was 'Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether', and it's pretty catchy. You know, I actually figure the main problem with this album is that too many melodies are set to the exact same loud, mid-tempo, 4/4 beat that you wouldn't expect of a respectable prog rock band. But then again, it's not all that different from Pink Floyd, is it? (And don't you go reminding me about the 7/4 pattern of 'Money'. It's a good song, but it just screams 'look at us! We can play 7/4!' all over the place. It's hardly like that elsewhere). However, honour of best song goes to 'Tell-Tale Heart', and not just because of Arthur Brown's suitably eccentric performance, but rather due to the song's general eccentricity. It's all over the place, part boogie, part heavy metal, part dreamy symphony, part orchestral rampage, and unlike 'Doctor Tarr', it isn't just an immaculately glossy mid-tempo hard rock arena-friendly pigeonhole. Too unsettling for generic radio stations.

As for the 'Fall Of House Of Usher' symphony, it's not particularly memorable, but I find it likeable all the same. It has an excellent progression, from the lengthy orchestrated intro (incorporating Tchaikovsky quotations, right?) to the moody organ-dominated 'Arrival' and the harpsichord-dominated 'Pavane' - see what I meant when I said the record never gets boring. I was kinda disappointed in 'The Fall', though: for such a climactic and shattering event, fifty seconds of orchestral crescendo seems a bit feeble for such a master of sound as Mr Parsons. Then again, maybe it was specially meant to be that way - after all, remember that the protagonist only witnesses the actual downfall from afar and it doesn't last all that long. And then we end up everything with a soothing Floyd-style ballad, 'To One In Paradise', written in the best traditions of British 'dream-pop', if you know what I mean.

In fact, I'm really amazed at how fine this record turned out to be: at the tail end of the 'prog-rock rule' years, Mr P actually managed to revitalize the genre by putting it into a 'literary' context, on one hand, and into an 'electronically oriented' context, on the other, never losing the sense of taste or an overall orientation on true enjoyability. Sure he had to sacrifice "liveliness" in the process, and invent his own brand of skilfully choked, robot-minded music, but these kinds of gruesome considerations really only apply for those who value a good blast of feedback over everything else. Those who like their stuff clean and neat will definitely take Tales Of Mystery And Imagination over Tales From Topographic Oceans any day.

PS. Slight technical fact - there actually exist two different versions of this album, the original one and the 1987 re-mix, which is the standard for today's CDs and which is the one I have. The remix is said to be slightly different, with the addition of a few extra guitar and synthesizer parts; also, Orson Welles' spoken introduction to the album isn't present on the original. I can't say which one is better, of course, because I haven't heard the old version, so I'll just stop here. 'Fraid, though, that most of you will have to do with the remix.


I ROBOT ****1/2

Year Of Release: 1977

This is another one of those "win-or-lose" moments, but I'll go ahead and say it: I Robot is a masterpiece, or at least, a near-masterpiece, because Alan Parsons is no Pete Townshend, after all. But it's not a masterpiece because of its "deep penetration inside the problem of relations between humanity and artificial intellect", as some A.P. fans would probably so. It's a masterpiece because it is - simply put - a great collection of catchy pop songs, interspersed with nice, soothing, clear ambient sonic pictures. It isn't emotionally powerful a la DSOTM, and it isn't weird or complex enough to be thrilling like some of the better Yes albums. It's just that I find something good, heartwarming, memorable and just plain positive in every track. No meaning, just fun. Somehow, though, in recent times it became trendy to bash this album - apparently, the year 1977 has become so tightly associated with the "punk revolution" that any kind of 'pop' album that seemed to 'miss the boat', no matter how good it was, like Steely Dan's Aja, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, or Eric Clapton's Slowhand, are bound to get bashed a lot. But these are all solid records, no matter which year they came out in, and so is I Robot.

Don't believe me? Let's take it track by track, then. The title track is a solid, if unspectacular, piece of "electronic funk", possibly influenced by Kraftwerk, but far less minimalistic than whatever Ralf und Florian were doing at the time, so it might appeal a bit more to those who don't like monotonous monotony. Then the dizzy poppishness starts. 'I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You' is funky as well, with Lenny Zakatek on vocals complaining about the, well, the robots, I guess (the title is supposed to mean that good as they are, I... well, whatever, why did I even start to explain that). Unbelievably catchy song, thrilling soft guitar solo, nice shuffling rhythms, expressive voice, what's not to like? 'Some Other Time' follows; ballad mood now, with gentle acoustic rhythms, a haunting flute theme which is later reshaped as a synthesized horns theme - boy, is that time uprising, solemn and mystical. Allan Clarke enters with a raunchier and sharper delivery on 'Breakdown': getting funky again, but in a different way, far more 'robotic' and 'cold' than on 'I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You', which is only natural, because the latter song is supposed to be sung from a "human human"'s perspective, while 'Breakdown' is the complaint of a nearly robotized human being about his fate. I don't want to say it's a "rocker" or anything, because as soon as I say 'it's a rocker', somebody is sure to say 'what kind of a fuckin' rocker is this if it doesn't rock at all?' and spoil all the picture. No, it hardly 'rocks', although it does amount to a crescendo, but it's still impressive.

'Don't Let It Show' is perhaps the album's tackiest moment - a typical Seventies' pathetic orchestrated ballad along the lines of Billy Joel, but pathetic orchestrated ballads are crappy when they substitute their pathos and orchestration for melodies, and this one doesn't. Heck, I've heard David Bowie sing far worse ballads than this one (and on some of his better albums, too). The vocal melody can't be beat: a couple listens and you'll be humming 'don't let it, don't let it show' like mad. 'The Voice' comes in with gruffer, more dangerous overtones and funky wah-wah guitars again, but essentially it's more of an atmospheric number, and it really works: put together a fat, ominously throbbing bassline, randomly spruced percussion effects, gloomy synth orchestrations, and isolated guitar runs, and you get an excellent musical landscape that actually could stand on its own against any kind of Floydian atmosphere.

The short proto-trip-hop instrumental 'Nucleus' ensues (which should be revered if only for the fact that it is proto-trip-hop - just listen to that beat, will ya?), and then goes into another, this time typically Floydish, ballad, 'Day After Day (The Show Must Go On)'. Isn't it funny that one of the songs on The Wall is entitled 'The Show Must Go On', and another of the songs begins with 'day after day...'? And I'm serious about it: I don't have the least doubt that Mr Waters spent quite a bit of time sucking in I Robot before laying down the basics for The Wall. I can't prove it, but it's a deep conviction inside me.

And finally, two more instrumentals end the record - the chaotic, apocalyptic 'Total Eclipse' (another DSOTM reference???), and the stately becalming pomposity of 'Genesis Ch. I V. 32'. Don't rush out to grab your copies of the Old Testament: Chapter One of Genesis has only 31 verse, so the title supposedly suggests some kind of 'continuation of creation', or just simply a hope for a new and better life.

A wonderful album indeed; this and Tales are proof enough that the songwriting duo of Parsons and Woolfson had a lot going for them and don't deserve such a poor reputation. And as a minimum, my humble opinion is that every serious fan of Pink Floyd should buy a copy of I Robot. Unless, of course, your favourite Floyd member happens to be Dave Gilmour, in which case you should probably just buy a robot.


PYRAMID ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1978

Weak! But that's not really denigrating. If weak people aren't necessarily bad (hell, I am a weak person), then why should a weak record be bad? It's just that Pyramid leaves me a little bit underwhelmed, but I was really prepared for it - and not just because I've read some bad reviews of the album, but mainly because it's obvious that after two albums of such high quality Mr Parsons and Mr Woolfson would have to go down, at least a bit.

Not that my particular complaints are gonna be one hundred percent objective. First of all, Pyramid has a rather vague concept - with its constant assessments of the "Pyramid Concept" as something (a) deeply mystical, (b) deeply schizophrenic, and (c) deeply ancient, I don't quite get the overall message. The record is kinda disjointed, more so than I Robot, and so doesn't possess the monolithic bombast of the days of yore. I must say, though, that once again, there are numerous Pink Floyd references on the album, starting from the pyramid concept itself (remember the cover of DSOTM?) to specific topics of madness ('Pyromania') and aging and vanity ('What Goes Up' - just compare the song's message to Floyd's 'Time'). Consequently, the album will appeal to ardent Floydsters again. (I wonder why these commercially astute guys never thought of patenting the Project as some kind of daughter company?).

More important, the songs in general aren't as well-written as before. Don't get me wrong: there ain't a single truly bad tune on here, but as far as memorability is concerned, there are fewer pop hooks and much more pure atmosphere, also evident in the fact that there are more instrumentals than ever before. It's a strange thing, really: while these songs are on, each of them has something to say to me and actively draws me in, but as soon as they're over, I can't remember a single note. A special case of Parsons-caused amnesia? Or just a lack of care on behalf of the wise electronic dudes?

Whatever. 'What Goes Up', like I said, shares a philosophic concept with some of Floyd's topics, but musically it's more of a "minor disco" number, done in a very humble, quiet, non-blatant way, which reminds me why I rarely feel any kind of alergy towards the Project: there's so little bombast and the vocals are usually so well-placed that you have a perfect sense of adequacy even when the lyrics are ultra-pretentious and the melody is ultra-simple. Floyd legacy again: the vocals must be inobtrusive and toned down, but expressive all the same. I like that approach. It's faithfully preserved by Colin Bluntstone on the gorgeous 'The Eagle Will Rise Again', easily the most moving ballad on the album. Just a bit of acoustic guitar, a bit of synth overtones, a few chorale effects around, and Bluntstone transforms what could have been a passable bit of filler in an inspired, fervent prayer worthy of Pete Townshend quality.

To be honest, it is nearly matched by the closing number, 'Shadow Of A Lonely Man', which is kinda pathetic, but irresistable. Let's say it reminds me of some of the best work of the Moody Blues. Is it also Bluntstone singing? Somebody pat him on the back, please, for singing like an angel. When he chants 'in the shadow of a lonely, lonely man I can see myself...', it's a pure moment of ecstasy. Don't even read the lyrics: they're filled with the usual romantic cliches you'll always see in any average song about aging. Just listen to those pleading vocals. Pure bliss.

The more 'upbeat' numbers on the album aren't tremendously impressive - 'One More River' is just a typical electronically-enhanced jazzy rocker the likes of which you can find anywhere, and the folkish 'Can't Take It With You' has a light Beatlish aura around it, but doesn't really go anywhere in terms of melody, pleasant as it is in general. It's just that with such a trivial melody, I'd expect some particularly subtle instrumentation/arranging details, and so far I didn't exactly notice them. As for 'Pyromania', don't be afraid of the vicious title - melodically, it's just an extremely lightweight pop number, a bit in the upcoming New Wave stylistics (I'd say similar to the Cars, but don't quote me on that one): pleasant, but for whatever reason I just can't figure out how it goes as soon as it's over.

My biggest disappointment lies in the instrumentals: they just kinda drag on. 'Voyager' and 'In The Lap Of The Gods' don't feature any prominent theme of their own, and 'Hyper-Gamma-Spaces' does have one, but it's so long and simplistic and Kraftwerk-based that I can't but turn my thumbs down. Well, not that there's anything wrong with basing instrumentals on Kraftwerk, but alternating all these cathartic, beautiful ballads with repetitive robotic patterns is not necessarily a good idea. If you've written something like that, why not just sell it to Kraftwerk and get over with it?

Then again, forget it, I'm just being crabby again. No, no, I do consider it a letdown from the level of the two previous vinyl classics, but who says you have to experience a state of musical orgasm for years upon end? Just keep in mind that Pyramid is also a worthy album, and if you want my opinion, it's easily the best art/prog-rock record of 1978, only rivalled by maybe Jethro Tull's Heavy Horses. If this doesn't convince you, come closer, let me whisper in your ear: "SSSH! Don't tell anybody, but... the All-Music Guide didn't scold this record too much!'


EVE ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1979

Dull! But that's not really denigrating. If dull people aren't necessarily bad (hell, I am a dull person), then why should a dull record be bad? It's just that Eve leaves me a little bit underwhelmed, but I was really prepared for it - and not just because I've read some bad reviews of the album, but mainly because it's obvious that after two albums of such high quality and one album of such a so-so quality Mr Parsons and Mr Woolfson would have to go down, at least a bit.

Seriously, now, Eve is where the band all of a sudden lost any kind of critical support, and I can't even blame the critics. Unlike Pyramid, its overall concept seems to be somewhat fascinating: man-woman relationships, with some strikingly misogynistic imagery in the first part and some deep/romantic observations in the second, with male and female vocalists alternating in describing the virtues and flaws of the opposite sex (don't worry, it's not a rock opera). But the songs themselves don't seem to be particularly developed. Haters of the band will argue that the APP is all style, no substance, but this certainly isn't true when applied to the band's 1975 - 1978 records. However, Eve is the first record where Parsons/Woolfson's traditional hooks tend to be so weak you'd even wonder if they're really there.

Luckily, it ain't any more pretentious or pompous or 'effect-dominated' or whatever than Pyramid - listenable all the way through and enjoyable as far as this kind of "lollypop music" goes. The lyrics are fine, the message is okay, I guess, and this thing was damn made for commercial success: there's nothing the happy record buying public loves more than purchasing an inoffensive 'serious pop' record that delves into artsiness but doesn't delve particularly deep for the listener to have a necessity to wreck his poor brain trying to 'get' this stuff. After all, if Pink Floyd enjoyed such an immense commercial success, why shouldn't Alan Parsons Project, whose music was essentially a clone of several sides of the Pinks' personality, follow suit? Eve kicked some massive butt in that respect, spawning a bunch of hit singles, going gold, etc., and launching the Project into commercial stardom.

Deservedly? Well... all I can say is that there definitely were far worse albums that have achieved far better commercial success. And after all, Eve does sport some classics, I would be an obstinate moron if I were to deny that. In particular, the first two songs with vocals are quite impressive. 'You Lie Down With Dogs' is by far the most misogynistic song in the entire A.P. catalog, but it earns a high grade from me not because of the violent lyrics, but because the steady, ominous rhythm, the driving, pleading vocals, the 'mocking' solos, all contributes to a terrific atmospheric outburst: the Project hasn't been that venomous and scornful before. Hmm, do you think that Floyd's Animals could have been the primary inspiration here (again)? And the second song, 'I'd Rather Be A Man'... well, I could only describe it in the exact same way. I'd say the vocal melody is a bit more memorable, but how could I prove that? Hell, why should I want to prove that? And by the way, I think I rather like the song's synth-pop arrangement - very much predicts the typical Eighties' style, but with more taste and refinement. (It also contains the album's greatest lyric - 'blame it on the apple tree, but you don't fool me')!

The classic hooks also appear in 'Damned If I Do', which after a few listens goes to reveal itself as a powerful, emotional, impressive, almost confessional number - 'damned if I do, damned if I don't but I love you'. It's just that the basic vocal melody drags on in a slightly dull, monotonous way, never elevating itself too much over the standard synth arrangement, but please concentrate by the time the chorus comes in, and these lines will be sure to strike you as sincere and heartfelt, and catchy at that.

As for the rest of this stuff... ambivalent feelings here. The instrumentals ('Lucifer', 'Secret Gardens') are moody, but don't have enough breathtaking power to make them stand apart from the dozens of other moody instrumentals in the band's catalog. Tepid ballads like 'You Won't Be There' are pretty ear-candy while they're on, but don't seem to advance far beyond ordinary 'heartwarming' acoustic chords and 'friendly' vocal harmonies. Again, the basic vocal melodies are monotonous here, but unlike 'Damned If I Do', even the chorus is forced and formulaic.

You should also write it down in your notepad, Laura Bow, that the album begins with an exclusive emphasis on male vocalists and ends with equally exclusive emphasis on female vocalists. Including Claire Tory! (Pink Floyd reference # 456349). I'm not sure if it's her actually singing the album closer, 'If I Could Change Your Mind', but whoever it is, the singing is godly - the song is a bit lacking in terms of melody or musicianship (the guitars sound wretched to me), but just a single listen at the title being repeated over and over again at the end of the number makes me slowly and steadily float in the direction of the ceiling. A very witty ending, too - a record that starts out in such a bitter, angry, pissed-off way, ends up on such a tranquil, becalmed, solemn note. [The crowd outside: "Extra half star for that one! Extra half star!"]. In any case, it'll take you sometime to get used to the increasingly bland arrangements, but haven't you learned that in the long run, everything just depends on your good will? Be a good guy! Mr Parsons and Mr Woolfson certainly deserve your respect with this effort.



Year Of Release: 1980

Concept album number one thousand six hundred and fifty three, or so it could seem to those who haven't actually taken the time to, you know, listen to these records. And why should they, when there's so much ravenously exciting stuff filling up the Earth anyway? And who the heck actually needed the Alan Parsons Project in the Eighties? Nobody did.

But the Alan Parsons Project still existed, and managed to come out with yet another highly formulaic, but utterly enjoyable, record. There are no unbelievably high points like 'Damned If I Do' on here, but overall I'd say the effort is a bit more concentrated and a bit more consistent than Eve. This one revolves around the central topic of gambling; the title track, a side-long suite on the second side, is entirely dedicated to the fates of a gamblin' guy in a direct way, and most of the songs on the first side use card references as metaphors for Parsons' highly-aimed metaphysical thematics. But consider this as nothing much more than just a bit of corny trivia - I sure as hell ain't gonna base any sweeping general conclusions based on the concepts of Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson.

Let's just skip it and move on to the songs. First of all, we must get the Pink Floyd out of our system; Floyd reference #456350 is a lengthy melancholic ballad entitled, you guess it, 'Time'. Granted, it's closer in its gentle, slightly swaying, soothing mid-tempo atmosphere to 'Us And Them' than 'Time', but that makes it a double reference, then. As far as ballads called 'Time' go, this one isn't half-bad, though: I mean, if Alan Parsons was smart enough to record the enchanting atmosphere of 'Us And Them', he is certainly smart enough to make the atmosphere here seriously competitive. With the hook-filled vocal melody, and the shrill, but caressing whistles of the synths (that's not irony, in case you suspected that - I'm perfectly sincere!), it pushes adult contemporary as far as it can go in the positive direction. Which is pretty far, actually, if you know how to handle the production line.

The first side also includes tolerable soft-rockers like 'I Don't Wanna Go Home' and 'May Be A Price To Pay', which both haunt you with ominous lyrics and ominous synth lines, so as to tell you: "Only the Alan Parsons Project really knows what are the main problems of mankind!", and if you're smart enough, the correct way to dispel the enchantment is to say "Sorry, I'm just interested in the melodies", because that's the only thing from this album that can transcede time, if only for a limited period. As far as I know, though, 'Games To Play' is the most well-known song, a faster - and catchier - synth-rocker that predicts (and makes essentially useless) a huge chunk of Eighties synth-pop. It's well-written, but hardly inspired, that is, it could use a bit more edge and aggression, but then again, they could have turned into Foreigner had they followed that route.

Anyway, I essentially just wanted to concentrate on the title track. For a sixteen-minute long suite, and one that comes out of the hands of Alan Parsons, it is really a great little thingie. The concept is interesting, the themes are very well shaped and keep cropping up again just so as to remain memorable, never becoming annoying in their repetitiveness. First you have the "introduction" theme - a gentle, albeit slightly sappy, ballad; then comes 'Snake Eyes', a good riff-rocker; there's a slight medieval-sounding instrumental interlude, there's a slight accordeon-propped countryesque 'Mother Nature's Son' send-up to lift up your spirit, there's a terrific guitar solo, there's the reprise of the first section, okay, there's everything, it's just that I don't know what the heck to say of it. There's nothing outstanding here, just a bunch of good melodies. If I don't discuss the chord sequences, what else is there to discuss?

Oh well. I kinda figured out why so many people hate Alan Parsons so much. If you don't actually pay attention to this album while it's playing, it may imprint itself in your mind as a collection of vague, hazy, misty, blurry, bleary, dreary, and dreamy sonic pieces to be played around the time you turn off the last lights and prepare to go to bed. Without any serious guitarwork, with all these soothing vocals (even the more rocking parts feature vocal parts that can only be dubbed 'silken'), it's your perfect lullaby. It's only when you give yourself a sharp command - "I MUST focus my vision on the songs" - that the hooks become visible. If, I dunno, Big Star or Fleetwood Mac had recorded a few of these numbers, you'd be prancing all over the room. Therefore, never listen to this album in a tired, depressed, pissed-off, joyful, happy, or well-energized state. Wipe off all of your emotions, better still, convert to true Taoism, and then you'll be able to give it an even better review than I did.



Year Of Release: 1982

Well... I'm not sure. I guess sometimes it is wise to just wake up from hazy dreamy attempts at finding creative melodies, wipe your eyes, pinch your ass, and scream out "Hey! This is adult contemporary! What the heck possesses me in the first place?"

It's not that the songs are bad, it's just that with Eye In The Sky, Parsons and Woolfson have kinda stepped over the line. This album defines 'easy listening' to such a painfully obvious extent I have to cringe every time I think of it as an album rather than just a sterile collection of hooks taken without the context. The few attempts at a grittier sound on the second side are really laughable from that point of view, and as for the first side, it's totally lifeless soft rock with clear and clean, but absolutely uninteresting production. I know this is sort of the exact thing that I have managed to get out of my way for the preceding bunch of albums, but you know there's gonna come a time when even the most tolerant reviewer starts fidgeting his feet.

This time, there isn't even a concept to keep things interesting... well, okay, so I guess there is some general topic of self-contemplation and inner knowledge that runs through many of the songs, but it's far less obvious than any of the preceding albums. Still, for some reason Parsons and Co. managed to score a huge hit with the title track, making it one of their best known numbers and automatically pushing the LP into the category of "that mediocre record that the general critical opinion likes so much because it had a huge hit single". One thing I won't disagree with is that 'Eye In The Sky' is a good song, one of the band's 'Us And Them' clone series, just slightly sped up to make a difference, but also with a graceful, endearing Woolfson vocal melody that's emotional and memorable. But by this time, the production is just getting so overbearing that even the main vocal hooks of the song seem smothered and toothless.

Progressive fans will also be disappointed, because Eye In The Sky displays none of the ambition of the previous record; the closest thing to an 'epic' here is the seven-minute long 'Silence And I', but even that song in its essence is just a sappy sweet adult contemporary throwaway (the 'we need a chance to talk things over' passage might just be one of the most sickeningly sweet passages ever recorded) that happens to include a lengthy classical-based instrumental passage. A decent enough instrumental passage in the good tradition of ELP and company, but nothing that would raise an eyebrow in 1982. Granted, repeated listenings reveal some nice melodic ideas throughout the suite, but it's almost like it were intended as a juicy lil' bone for the band's old prog fans.

Like I said, the second side of the album tries to 'kick ass', but the best I can say here is that they manage not to embarrass themselves. 'You're Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned' sounds like Sonny and Cher carried over to the Eighties, a decent, but not too complex one-phrase pop melody buried deep in production that's way too bombastic and multi-layered for such a simple number. To be more precise, the verse melody is actually based on a Byrdsey jangly guitar melody, but the Byrds themselves would never have recorded the song that way. 'Psychobabble', despite the horrible title, is in fact one of the album's best tracks; it's at least distinguished because it actually begins with an unaccompanied bassline, not with the usual boring synth intro. The piano/synth riff that carries the tune is also a great discovery of Mr Parsons, although the lead singer on this number could become a bricklayer for all I care.

I'm also partial to the instrumental 'Mammagamma', where Parsons tries somehow to combine some of the elements of New Wave with the echoey repetitive guitar style of Dave Gilmour as heard on 'Run Like Hell', only by reproducing it on the synthesizer with some tape loop experimentation. It doesn't really go anywhere in particular, but as far as atmosphere goes, it can boast a pretty high level of tension and with its stable unnerving rhythm can be a lot of fun to blast out of your car windows. Oh sure it's just muzak essentially, but what prog-rock instrumental isn't? Heh heh.

The rest of the songs are all hit-and-miss or miss-and-hit if you like it, and discussing them isn't worth my money. Just note that the relatively lower rating is only explained by the album's near-complete lack of original ideas and the ever-ever-stiffening noose of the slick production; it's not like I would argue with foam at my mouth that the melodies on here are worse than those on Turn Of A Friendly Card. It's not really the decline as such, it's just harmless stagnation, if you can see the difference. And as for potential "violations of good taste", here's a thought for you: Alan Parsons albums are so goddamn quiet, even if there are violations of good taste, let's pretend I just never heard them. Okay?


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