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Old 11-17-2021, 10:05 AM   #41 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1976)

Based loosely on the works of horror fiction writer Edgar Allan Poe, the album seeks to represent some of his best stories through the medium of music, and it's quite a task they've set themselves here for their debut album. The idea of creating a mood, evoking an atmosphere that recalls the story you're trying to tell, with or without lyrics, is a daunting one, but here I think the APP do quite well with it. That's not to say it's a completely successful attempt, but generally speaking I think over the course of the album they managed it more times than they failed.

We open on “A Dream Within a Dream”, which though it has no vocals does have a narrated introduction by the great Orson Welles, as piano and synth build up behind him. As his narration ends a lonely recorder whines and then the bassline that would become distinctive to David Paton thumps in like a slow heartbeat, piano and organ joining it as the percussion slips in, and the piece begins on a slow, moderate tempo with very progressive sprinkled guitar from Ian Bairnson, somewhat reminiscent of Mike Oldfield. The sound builds up in layers, driven by Burleigh Drummond's sudden hammering percussion and then fades away slowly, leaving only the bassline to take us into “The Raven”, on which we hear Alan Parsons use the vocoder to relate the poem against, firstly just bass and percussion and then sharp guitar punching in. A big almost orchestral run takes the tune before it slips back down on choral vocals and back into a sound which would become a signature one of The Alan Parsons Project, easily identifiable as them whenever it was played, and it was played often.

The vocal then becomes clearer as Leonard Whiting - who, oddly enough is not a singer but an actor - takes over, and then Bairnson lets rip with a pretty heavy solo as the vocal rises in urgency and power. Softly then, almost like a hymn, the vocals go choral and fade down as the track winds towards its gentle end. Much more uptempo then for “The Tell-tale Heart”, vocals this time supplied by Arthur Brown (yes, the Arthur Brown, he of the Crazy World) and it bops along really well on Bairnson's romping guitar and Paton's ticking bass. Then after about two minutes it slows down to a stately waltz almost, with sumptuous synth and piano joining the orchestra before it all takes off again, this time fading into what would become another motif of the APP, a kind of low, fading choral vocal line and back in comes Bairnson, the tempo picking up again and exploding into a fine solo before the vocal comes back for the final verse.

A soft ballad then with the orchestra sweeping along slowly in “The Cask of Amontillado”, vocals this time taken by John Miles. It begins to ramp up on harder guitar and percussion in the second minute and then falls back to a solo piano, beginning again to build with some really nice backing vocals and ends on an APP instrumental motif and into “The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether”, brought in on tough guitar and punching percussion in a style again which would become identified with the APP. A dark voice declares “Just what you need to feel better” and then Miles takes the vocal again. I can see why this had a shot as a single; it's quite commercial and even poppy in its way, and points something of the direction towards later songs such as “Prime Time”, “Children of the Moon” and “Don't Answer Me”. I like how they throw in part of the vocoder section of “The Raven” near the end. Clever.

The penultimate track is one big long instrumental. Lasting over sixteen minutes and broken into five sections, “The Fall of the House of Usher” opens on “Prelude”, which runs for more than half of the composition, segueing directly in from the end of the previous track and into a narrated vocal by again I think Welles, then it's a very spooky and unsettling orchestral line that takes the piece as we move into the dark, forbidding house, jumping at shadows, suffocated by the thick, cloying air, listening for sounds. Reminds me a little of the themes to the Star Trek movies in places. Gets a little grand and majestic halfway through, the orchestra swelling proudly before dropping back again, like someone breathing a sigh of delight at being home before realising something evil is waiting there for them. And the music then swells and gets more urgent and scary as it heads towards the end of this section.

“Arrival” is a short piece that comes in on thunder, rain and Phantom-of-the-Opera-style church organ, busy synth that rises and overtakes the organ, perhaps meant to illustrate the pulse rate of the arriver before slow percussion hits in and the guitar wails its accompaniment. The synth fades away and back, as does the organ, and as we head towards the final minute comes back in, almost as if it's passing by, then a strong riff on the guitar closes the section and takes us to the one-minute “Intermezzo” which is pretty much a kind of suspense soundtrack, rising and pulling us into “Pavane”, where Paton's portentous bass and some acoustic guitar softens the mood somewhat, the familiar APP theme as it were returning. Sounds like mandolin there, probably is not - I see a kantele is used, so it could be that, though I don't know what one of them sounds like - and it takes the melody mostly on its own, as it builds back up for the big finale, fading out then to “Fall”, which is less than a minute of descending (obviously) discordant sounds, which certainly does symbolise a crashing to the ground and a sense of something dying.

It ends, naturally, abruptly, and we're left with one final track, the ballad “To One in Paradise”, which foreshadows the likes of “Time”, “Ignorance is Bliss” and “Siren Song”, and features the ex-Hollies singer Terry Sylvester, with some lovely backing vocals and swirling synth, a very nice ending to a pretty dark album that still manages to keep the attention and doesn't descend into total darkness.

TRACK LISTING

A Dream Within a Dream
The Raven
The Tell-tale Heart
The Cask of Amontillado
The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
The Fall of the House of Usher (i) Prelude (ii) Arrival (iii) Intermezzo (iv) Pavane (v) Fall
To One in Paradise

Quite an undertaking, and one which in general worked well, however something of a gamble to do this for your first album. Nevertheless, The Alan Parsons Project would go on to become, if not famous, then at least known, as they would have a few hits along their eleven-year career. If you're looking to get into them, honestly this is not the best place to start (and I didn't), but once you've heard and enjoyed their other material, it's a nice look back to see how they started off.

Rating: 7.5/10
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