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Old 12-04-2021, 12:11 PM   #45 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Ammonia Avenue (1983)

I feel this must have been the second APP album I bought, given that Eye in the Sky was my first and this was released the year after that, but I'm not sure. I only remember hearing the single “Don't Answer Me” on telly and loving it, and then going out to buy the album – this was a time BDD (Before Digital Download) when if you wanted an album you had to get up off your backside and head into a record shop with your hard-earned, and so I did. I seem to remember being delighted that the album turned out not to be just support for the big single, and it became one of my favourites, in fairness easily eclipsing my first experience of the band on vinyl.

Though the album did pretty well (not as well as its predecessor, of course) I have to feel that some percentage of buyers shelled out due to having heard the previous one, or at least the singles. Whether they found themselves disappointed or not I don't know; I only know I was certainly not. The album was preceded by its biggest hit single, the aforementioned “Don't Answer Me”, but opens on “Prime Time”, which was also released, though later on. This I find quite similar in its opening to both “Sirius” and “Eye in the Sky”, the rhythm and melody almost copied from them, and I don't know whether that was deliberate, to cash in on the success of the previous hit and draw people in with a “look! This album is like the last one you heard!” but it's still a great song, with Eric Woolfson again getting matters under way. It's slightly faster than “Eye in the Sky”, though not much, and features a fair amount of contribution on the frets from Ian Bairnson, its lyrics again looking back in part, though this time to The Turn of a Friendly Card as he sings “Not all of the hands I play will work out right”. I really like the guitar solo here, short though it is, and there are good backing vocals too, then it's down to earth with a bump as Lenny Zakatek sticks his nose in again and though “Let Me Go Home” is not his worst, it's really a slide in quality almost straight away. I suppose in ways you could say this also references TTOAFC as he sings “I've had a bad night, leave me alone!” It's a very rock-and-roll, almost down-and-dirty song, which again gives Bairnson a chance to cut loose, but it's not sophisticated enough for me. I like my APP songs to have more to them than this.

Would I dislike it as much if Woolfson or someone other than Zakatek was singing? I don't know, but probably. It's not necessarily his voice that turns me off this track; it's just too sharp and in-your-face for the kind of thing I expect from Parsons and his boys. I don't expect every song to be a ballad or a suite, but this is low grade in the worst way. Luckily it's short and soon forgotten as we head into “One Good Reason” with the welcome return of Woolfson. This too is an uptempo song, but I feel it has more about it, and while it's not one of my favourites, I'd take it above the previous one any day. Handclaps and a busy percussion with digital piano keep things moving nicely, and in the second verse Woolfson is joined by – well, I don't know: could be his own voice double-tracked, but it works well. Jangly guitar from Bairnson fits in well, but oddly the thing that really makes the song is the consistent handclap percussion. Odd, because usually I don't like those but there you go.

After that though it's pure gold pretty much all the way. The first ballad comes in “Since the Last Goodbye”, Chris Rainbow's only contribution to the album, but it's a powerful one. With a lazy, laconic and sad guitar line it very much puts me in mind of “Time” from Pyramid, though not in a rip-off sort of way, I just hear the same sort of arrangement on it. It's the tale, in case you couldn't tell from the title, of a love affair breaking up, and Rainbow's yearning voice really makes the song, rising to a tortured wail on the completion of the last bridge. Bairnson confines himself to gentle acoustic guitar accompaniment and it's the string section under the direction of Andrew Powell that really gives the song its heart musically. Just beautiful, and it fades perfectly away like the last breath of a dying lover.

Powerful, rolling percussion takes us then into “Don't Answer Me” featuring again the return of Woolfson, who does his usual great job here, in a bitter kind of semi-ballad which seems to be built on distrust and uncertainty – "Don't answer me, don't break the silence/Don't let me win/ Don't answer me, stay on your island/Don't let me in.” This is one of my favourite APP songs of all time, and I'm not surprised it was a hit. Mel Collins again turns up to add a superb sax solo that just raises the song to a even higher level, and things stay up for “Dancing on a Highwire”, where we're in the safe vocal hands, as it were, of Colin Blunstone, this also his only song on the album, but worth waiting for. Unlike his previous turns, this is not what you'd call a ballad, and shows what he can do when he's singing something other than a love song.

I find the opening rather similar to “Prime Time”, and the same basic beat is there again, but you get that with a lot of APP songs – it's almost their signature – however it takes a very different direction, with a sort of political message in it to some extent, and a more downbeat idea than we expect from these guys: "The silver-plated hero meets a golden-hearted whore/The odds will give you zero she'll be leaving in a few days more.” It's quite a bitter song, reflecting a little of Pink Floyd's “Money” when Blunstone sings ”We believe in freedom and charity/ As long as I get mine.”

Driven very much on Bairnson's rasping guitar licks, the song features a very smooth solo from him in the midsection, with powerful percussion from Elliot, and then there's one more slight dip... no, let's be fair here: “You Don't Believe” is a damn good song, even if we do have to suffer Lenny again, and in fact, loath though I am to say it, credit where credit is due, this song suits his more ragged, raw voice and he does a good job on it for once. It's a rolling, galloping kind of melody, with a very dramatic feel to it, riding on a thick synth line from Parsons and some sharp guitar too. I read that it was previously released, both as a single and on a compilation, but this was the first time I had heard it. I do wonder if it has anything to do with Parsons feeling that though he is the boss and his name is on the band he tends to get little real credit? Or possibly the reverse? When Zakatek sings “My song, your production/It's my expense but your deduction” is he sniping at Woolfson? Or given that it's Eric singing, is the lyric directed at Parsons? They did have a famous (within the band's fans) altercation about who was in charge, and when he growls ”My terms on your conditions/ They're my tunes, but your compositions!” well, you have to wonder, don't you? Yeah well maybe you don't, but I do. The pounding, urgent rhythm of the song would, for me, back this up, but it might just be my imagination working overtime.

There's only one instrumental on this, and “Pipeline” goes along slowly but surely, plodding along with not really all that much to it, but I do like it. The addition of Collins's sax helps elevate it, as does the orchestral strings, and while it hasn't the immediacy of a “Voyager” or “Hyper-gamma Spaces”, as Moe once said, it's not without its charm. It's the lead in to the title, and closing track, which nods a lot back to “Silence and I” from the previous album. There's a sense of The Eagles' “The Last Resort” here for me, with a semi-religious theme running through it, opening on some gorgeous piano and the return of Eric Woolfson, the vocal and indeed the piano very low when it begins, peppered through by some lovely acoustic guitar from Ian Bairnson. “Ammonia Avenue” is the longest track on the album – six and a half minutes – and features some truly stunning orchestral work from The Philharmonia Orchestra, but worryingly we're back to both “Silence and I” and “Pyramania” in the midsection. It doesn't kill the song but it does make it sound less original.

Much of the track, in fact, is taken up by the instrumental break, which kind of makes me wonder if it needed to be this long? Not that I have any problem with a song being six minutes plus, nor any issue with this track, which I love, but I just wonder if they had not put in the instrumental part, essentially, from “Silence and I” if the song might have sounded better. In the end, it's a bitter but powerful and effective closer, and as I say, much credit must be given to the orchestra for their stellar work here. I could have wished for a better ending though, as I feel it kind of fades away a little poorly, though Woolfson gives it his all, there's no doubt about that.

TRACK LISTING

Prime Time
Let Me Go Home
One More Reason
Since the Last Goodbye
Don't Answer Me
Dancing on a Highwire
You Don't Believe
Pipeline
Ammonia Avenue

In terms of good-to-bad tracks, this is close to as good as it gets. Even with the massive drag factor (sorry Lenny) of a certain vocalist on two of the songs, there's nothing on this I don't like, and little I don't love. It's one of my favourite APP albums, and buying it certainly sent me in a backward direction to purchase other, older albums, few if any of which disappointed. If anyone ever asks me (which they never have) which album they should listen to in order to get into the Alan Parsons Project, this is the one I would recommend. It's practically flawless.

If that's a question you're asking yourself, and you're looking to begin your journey into their music, you could not really do better than take a stroll down Ammonia Avenue, and see where it leads you.

Rating: 9.8/10
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