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Old 11-23-2021, 10:05 AM   #44 (permalink)
Trollheart
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A Valid Path (2004)

Back when I reviewed Alan's third solo album, The Time Machine, I expressed a worry that he was stepping back too far from participating in such things as the songwriting and leaving control of what we could reasonably call The Alan Parsons Project V 2.0 to people like Ian Bairnson and Stuart Elliot, and wondered if this was the way his career as a solo artist was going to continue? Well, it's been five years since that album and let me tell you, a whole hell of a lot has changed. One almost earth-shaking difference is the absence of both the aforesaid gentlemen, Bairnson having emigrated to Spain and Elliot hooking up with, among others, Cockney Rebel's Steve Harley and Yes's Jon Anderson. Another big change is the involvement of a true legend, and one well known to Alan from his days engineering their seminal 1973 classic, as Dave Gilmour lends his talent to this album.

But the biggest change, one which has never occurred before in the history of even The Alan Parsons Project, is Alan taking vocal duties himself. I know he added backing vocals on a few of the albums, but he never sang lead, and I think it will be interesting (this is the very first time I've heard this album) to see how he sounds, and how, if at all, he can measure up to the stellar vocal talents that have graced his albums over the years. Alan also gets back to writing, though nothing here is a solo composition of his, he is involved in every single track. Two of the songs are re-recordings or remixes of previous APP tracks, and finally his son Jeremy, whose first outing with his father was on the debut solo album, Try Anything Once, reprises his role here on guitar, but following in dad's footsteps, extends that to sequencer and programming.

So it's a vastly different band we find, half a decade later, performing on the fourth solo album, and it could, I guess, be said to be the first Alan Parsons solo album where he finally lets go of the legacy of the Alan Parsons Project, at least in terms of band members, and where he returns to what he's best at, writing great music. I will sound a note of caution though: as I look at the other songwriters who help Alan out, all of them seem to be in the area of electronic music, some even trance or psybient (whatever the hell that is) so I have to wonder if this is going to sound very different indeed to what we've become used to? Alan Parsons for the twenty-first century? Let's find out.

Gilmour is in fine form as “Return to Tunguska” opens the album with a deep synthy sound and robotic kind of effects, spacey soundscapes and I think whispered dialogue very low in the mix and rising organ (yes yes ooer!) and keys in a sort of eastern/Arabic melody, pecussion only bouncing in around the third minute, the piece's almost nine minutes making it the longest instrumental of either Alan Parsons' solo career or of that of the Alan Parsons Project. Thick, echoing and hollow-sounding drums now as the synth climbs before Gilmour's solo comes in about halfway. I imagine it was really something for the two old comrades to be reunited, the career of one having so eclipsed (sorry) the other, but Parsons would still be able to point to over fifty million albums sold and several hit singles. Still, there's no comparison, but for a man who began life in the early seventies as a humble engineer, Alan's rise to commercial fame has been very impressive, and I'm sure Dave took note.

Oh well he had to throw in a few riffs from “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, didn't he? Only a few notes, but instantly recognisable, then the keys and percussion take over again as the piece heads for its seventh minute. Oh there's “Run Like Hell” too! Dave, you tease! I would have to say, on the face of it though, this sounds very much more like something you might have got on The Endless River, more a Pink Floyd piece than an Alan Parsons one. I guess Gilmour can't help automatically taking over any track he participates on, and he certainly does here, once he comes in. I couldnt' say it's the greatest settler of my nerves, nor the best opener I could hope for, but we'll see how it goes.

Strange, almost country-style opening to “More Lost Without You”, which features on vocals a man who apparently is the voice of the Alan Parsons Live Project, P.J. Olsson. Can't say I love his voice but it's not bad. The song itself I'm not terribly impressed with, and my trepidation grows rather than be calmed. It's a sort of hard rock-ish song, I would have thought a ballad from the title, but no, definitely not. Some good heavy percussion, but at the moment I'm missing the guitar licks of Ian Bairnson. We're now two tracks in and I couldn't recognise this as an Alan Parsons album, not even the previous The Time Machine: there's just no, what's the word? No identity on it, at least so far. There's no familiar melody, there are no riffs, none of the “Parsons March” - it could be an album by anyone.

Now there is, but that's only because “Mammagama 04” is of course a remix of the instrumental from 1982's Eye in the Sky, featruring Alan's son Jeremy. Have to say, it doesn't sound anything like it to me. Some sort of staggered vocal effect running through it, very trance-ified, slower, kind of hear it when all the nonsense drops out in the second minute – yeah I can recognise it now, but essentially it's the same track with some weird effects and a different arrangement, which is, I suppose, the point, and they're not trying to hide it, as it is titled as such. Vocoder work on it, that weird effect is back, and I guess if Jeremy is on this he's doing a good job, but I prefer the original.

You have to say, too, that if he's relying on remixing older tracks from his days with the Alan Parsons Project, then maybe the man is fresh out of ideas. I personally wonder if he's missing Woolfson, as this is one of two tracks written with Eric in their heyday, and even the title of the previous track could be taken to refer to his not being able to come up with new ideas without Woolfson's assistance. Probably not, as he's written two – all right three; let's say two and a half – good solo albums, two very good ones without his ex-partner, but still, this comes across to me as a kind of mixture between an exercise in nostalgia and a holding pattern, as if Alan isn't sure where he goes from here.

In fact I'm wrong about the vocals: he only takes the mike for two songs (most of this album is instrumental anyway) and on this one is helped by two members of electronic band The Crystal Method. Do have to admit, his voice is very good though, and I wonder why he didn't sing on more of his older songs? Maybe he just didn't want to; preferred to operate behind the scenes. Or maybe it was an agreement between him and Woolfson, who knows? You stick to producing and I'll do the singing, when we're not using guest vocalists. All right, I have to be honest, this is miles better than anything on the album up to now, not that that would be hard. It almost restores my faith in the man, though even at that, it's hardly an Alan Parsons (Project) song. Good guitar solo, almost Bairnson-like. Who's playing it? Could be one of four: Alan himself, his son, David Pack or Alastair Greene.

“We Play the Game” is mostly driven on electronic synth beats though, and you can't help but look back to “Games People Play” from The Turn of a Friendly Card, although musically the song is nothing like that. Yeah I really like this. About bloody time. That could have been a hit single. Back though to instrumentals we go, with two in a row, the first being “Tijuanaic”, a swaying, rolling sort of beat with a nice exotic kind of feel, some really sweet piano. The melody goes a bit warped halfway, maybe that's this atonic scale or whatever they call it; very annoying to my ears anyway. I hope it doesn't stay this way as there's over five minutes of this instrumental. Now there's a powerful punch as screeching guitar and synth snap out, kettle drums maybe, and the annoying atonal wotsit keeps going. This is, I have to say, not a track I'm enjoying at all. Oh, well it's over, thank the Great Pixie. Featured, apparently, some crowd called the Nortec Collective. Right. Next.

Well, following this we have, as I said, another instrumental, this being another electronica-influenced one, another that lasts over five minutes, and another with a collaborator, this being someone called Uberzone. Opens on rather soothing sounds of thunder and falling rain, then picks up on a sweeping synth melody and a percussive beat and bass line almost reminiscent of the old days with the Alan Parsons Project. Much better than the previous one anyway. Some very good progressive rock style passages here, and a nice darker synth when it slows down and then gives way to a crying guitar. Definitely my favourite after “We Play the Game”, but that's still only two tracks out of, so far, six. I'm not sure I'd be into Uberzone's music, but if it's all like “L'arc en Ciel” (Rainbow) then maybe it might be worth a shot.

We're all the way back to the debut then with a remixing and re-recording, and amalgamation of two tracks from Tales of Mystery and Imagination which goes under the title of “A Recurring Dream Within a Dream”, and features “The Raven” linked to “A Dream Within a Dream”, the other track featuring Alan on vocals. The opening narration is by Orson Welles, and Jeremy joins his father on this reimagining of the not-exactly-classic but well-known tracks from the debut album that introduced the world to The Alan Parsons Project. The vocal on “The Raven” was always processed through a vocoder, and here it is again so I'm not sure what to think. I'm not sure what to think of him resurrecting these two tracks in the first place. I mean, why? Are we constantly looking back here? Did not Neil Lockwood tell us there was “No Future in the Past” on the previous album? Is Alan really stuck, unable to go forward, always having to look over his shoulder at his past glories rather than create new ones? Yeah, don't think much of the remix at all. Pretty pointless, I feel.

On we go, with an increasingly heavy heart which has been temporarily lightened only to find itself weighed down again with the sad burden of having to come to terms that Alan may be past it now, but perhaps there's some respite in “You Can Run”, as David Pack appears to lend a hand, the song a pounding rocker somewhat in the vein of “You're Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned”, and while I would have sneered at this earlier, right now it's about as as welcome as the return of Ian Bairnson. It is, to be fair, not great, which just goes to show how pretty miserable the larger part of the rest of the album has been that I'm clinging onto this sub-standard rocker as a symbol that all is not lost. I think I have to face it: on this album at least, all is lost. We end on one final instrumental, “Chomolunga” apparently being one of the mountains in the Himalayas that isn't Everest, and sounds like someone rattling castanets over a shaky synth rhythm, which does not fill me with enthusiasm or confidence. I also hear elements of “Welcome to the Machine” there, but that might just be me going mad after listening to this rubbish.

Nice bright keyboard helps, but the dark tribal chant does not, and – well, actually it comes together quite well at the end, and I can see the idea here. Not quite sure what the idea of having John Cleese doing his best Monty Python at the end is, other than to underline how boring this album is and how haphazard. Hell, there's even a dog barking at the end!

TRACK LISTING

Return to Tunguska
More Lost Without You
Mammagamma 04
We Play the Game
Tijuanaiac
L'arc en Ciel
A Recurring Dream Within a Dream
You Can Run
Chomolunga

I really don't know what to say. This album is a mess. There's nothing of the Alan Parsons magic about it. Maybe it was – hopefully – an experiment, something he wanted to try (his solo debut does make that claim) and now that he's got it out of his system he'll settle back down to writing and playing the pop/rock tunes we've grown up on. Well, I have anyway. If that's not the case, and this is the new direction he's planning on going in, I think we may very well have to part ways, because this does not speak to me.

Has losing all the main members of his band had a deleterious effect on his music? It certainly seems so. Here, he's relying on remixes of old tracks and basically putting bits onto music by other artists to cobble together an album which, in my opinion, should have been left on the drawing board. Is it a mid-life crisis? Has Alan found electronic music and wants to go entirely into that area now, moving away from rock altogether? I suppose it's possible.

But this is the worst Alan Parsons album I've ever heard, full stop. It barely deserves the name of one. A valid path? More like off the beaten path and into the deep, dark forest from which there may be no return.

Rating: 5.0/10
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