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Old 12-14-2021, 09:47 AM   #46 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Try Anything Once (1993)

After a somewhat acrimonious split between himself and Eric Woolfson, Alan's former partner in the band went into producing musicals and also resurrecting music they had written together but never published, and the two did not work together again to my knowledge, Woolfson passing in 2009. Parsons went on to a solo career, but essentially it seems to be the Alan Parsons Project minus Eric and David Paton. Evidently no singer himself, and without Woolfson to take the lion's share of vocal duties, Alan resorted to his tactics while in charge of the APP, which was to recruit different singers to take different songs. None of his old muckers are here – John Miles, Chris Rainbow, Colin Blunstone, even Lenny Zakatek are conspicuous by their absence, Whether he avoided calling them in so that his new venture would not be seen as the APP under a shorter name, or whether they were all busy, or even whether they sided with Woolfson or just did not wish to take sides, I have no idea. But the world of rock music is not short of vocalists, and Parsons recruited people like David Pack from Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Ambrosia's Chris Thompson, Eric Stewart as well as, for the first time since 1979's Eve, a female singer in the shape of Jacqui Copland, who had also worked with Woolfson on his Freudiana stage musical.

There's very little you could call progressive rock on this album, but it's still a thoughtful, deep rock album with some very memorable tunes and a few tracks that might have made decent singles, though that part of the Parsons legend had long passed by now. I expect people encountering this album had one of three reactions: “Alan who?” or maybe “A new album from the Alan Parsons Project” or even “I thought that band were finished?”

Not quite, my friends, not quite. Back in a new form, but still with those wonderful songs you all loved back in the 1980s.

The new era of Alan Parsons, sans Project, opens with “The Three of Me”, a very familiar synth line and dark percussion kicking it off bringing slow, luxurious synth in followed by tinkling piano with trumpeting keys, really announcing the beginning of a new chapter in fine style, the song instrumental up until the second minute, with the familiar strings of the Philharmonia Orchestra revving everything up. Then it sort of breaks into a bouncy, poppy beat which looks a little back to “Pyramania” as David Pack becomes the first vocalist to usher in the new era. It's an odd little song, which I feel nods back also to “Somebody Out There” from Vulture Culture, at least in its lyrical themes.

A strange sound of dark laughter there, whether this is directed at Woolfson, himself or nobody is open to question, but it's clear Alan takes a far more active role on this album, not only playing synths but also acoustic guitar, bass and flute as well as adding backing vocals. Well, the APP was under his name, but this is his name, so I guess he'd want to stamp his identity over it more than he used to, when he would mostly keep in the background, making sure everything ticked over. A soft, susurrating beat and low bass introduces “Turn it Up”, with perhaps a message for or from himself in the opening lines: "It's no use believing in somebody else/ If you can't believe in yourself” and notes wryly ”It's no good sitting on the fence/ And hoping the trouble will pass/ Sitting on fences can give you a pain in the ass!”

This is the first of two contributions by Chris Thompson, who sounds to me a little like a heavier Woolfson, and you could almost imagine Eric singing this. For a song so titled it's mostly quite low-key, though it does, ahem, turn it up for the chorus. Some nice synthy soundscapes in the middle, and now I really listen to him Thompson is too ragged and raspy a voice to compare to the pure, heavenly pipes of Woolfson. Love the bass line here, courtesy of either Alan or Ian, though flute accompanying the riff would indicate the latter, as Alan is clearly busy with his flute ooer. Then again, Andrew Powell, longtime orchestral arranger, also plays the bass, so who knows who it is? Poweful ending and we're into what sounds once more an attempt by Alan to recreate “Eye in the Sky”, as Eric Stewart takes the vocals for “Wine to the Water”, a softer, easier tone in his voice than that of Thompson. This is very smooth and contains some nice vocal harmonies with a kind of boogie rhythm to it.

This is the first time we really hear the guitar cut loose, although whether it's Ian Bairnson or not is hard to work out, as Parsons employs here for I think the first time a second guitarist in Jeremy Parsons: is he any relation? Yes, he's his son. Of course you'd expect instrumentals, and there are no less than four on this album, with the first up next. “Breakaway” runs mostly on squelchy synth and handclaps with a sort of running beat, then trumpet or some sort of horn comes in kind of a la “Urbania”, but not, I think, sax. I see there's autoharp on the album, so it could be that that's making the synthy sound, not sure. Very much a sense of ELO in some of the melody here. Quite catchy, and it speed up halfway and really takes off, reminding us of the best days of the APP, when they could do no wrong. Sharp guitar solo paired with violins and cellos as the piece hurtles towards its conclusion. Very impressive.

One of the two standouts is next, and it's also both the longest on the album – and I think edges out "Silence and I" as the longest single Alan Parsons Project track(if we're basically accepting that this is the APP under another name), coming in at eight and a half minutes, and is the only one on the album with a female vocal, courtesy of Jacqui Copland. A whining guitar gives way to lush synth then she comes in with the vocal as “Mr. Time” shows us that though Eric may be gone, Alan is still around and ready to carry on the tradition of excellent songwriting and music he purveyed as one half of the creative team behind the band for ten years. The song starts slowly and develops a sort of swaying, boogie rhythm then the chorus blasts out as Jacqui demands ”Who can tell you what to do/ When Mr. Time has come for you?”

I don't see the Fairlight here, which is interesting, as it's been an integral part of the Alan Parsons Project for a decade now, but Alan seems to have ditched it in favour of banks of synthesisers and his orchestra. The latter really contributes here, raising the grandeur and majesty level of the song. It's good to hear a woman sing again with Alan Parsons, even if it is technically on his own solo album, and she gives a great performance. I'd hope we'd hear more from her. My usual gripe about songs being too long doesn't apply here: this doesn't overstay its welcome or feel padded out despite its length, and it takes us into the second instrumental, the manic and frivolous but happy “Jigue”, which is, as you might expect, an Irish (or Scottish) jig, on which Graham Preskett's fiddle takes centre stage, the guitar then acquiring a very distinctive Mike Oldfield sound (I wonder if that was a deliberate tribute?), and it's just a fun little piece of music. After the serious soul-searching and existentialism of “Mr. Time” it's just what's needed to lighten the mood.

More or less heavy rock then for “I'm Talkin' to You”, with David Pack returning on the vocals in a much more aggressive tone, with punchy guitars and snarling drums (or is that the other way around?), a song I feel Lenny Zakatek would have been very suited to, but Alan didn't ask or he said no or whatever, I don't know. Pack does a good job with it, but other than the tinges of the old “Parsons March” it's kind of not really that recognisable as an APP-style track. The next one certainly is though, “Siren Song” being the first of two ballads, and just gorgeous. The only thing missing from this Woolfson's heartfelt vocal, but Eric Stewart does a fine job with it, and I would certainly place it in the running for standout of the album. It probably would win that prize easily were it not for “Mr. Time” and the closer.

There's no way not to imagine drifting lazily along a river in summer without a care in the world, your woman or man at your side, everything right with life, as this music just carries you along like a gentle and friendly breeze. Bairnson does a stellar job on the evocative guitar here, and the percussion is perfect, but it is the voice of Stewart that makes the song, doing a very passable Woolfson. Just beautiful in every way, and reminds me strongly of “Time” from 1978's Pyramid. It's the second song on the album written by Bairnson, and this time he pairs with Frank Musker, well known for writing hits for among others, Air Supply, Sheena Easton, Bryan May and John Miles. It leads into the third instrumental, another almost-standout, the sweetly reflective “Dreamscape”, with an opening very reminiscent of “Light of the World” from Stereotomy, an emotional slow guitar riff sailing over a backdrop of wind noises and humming synth, enough to lull you into a pleasant doze between it and “Siren Song”.

Things soon rock back up though when Chris Thompson takes the stage for the fourth of Bairnson's compositions (making him, I think, almost as large a contributor to the music here as the man whose name adorns the album cover), the darkly bouncy “Back Against the Wall” with an almost mixture of blues and gospel in the tune. Powerful, thumping percussion as the song marches along, desperation in Thompson's voice as he growls ”If you talk to your brother/ And he don't give a damn/ And it looks like you're gonna fall/ You can call my number/ When you feel your back against the wall.” In a way, it's a “You've Got a Friend” for the 1990s, though much more acerbic and aggressive. It certainly kicks the **** out of the good feeling we've been getting from the previous tracks, and changes the tone of the album completely as Bairnson storms in with a strong solo and trumpeting keys from Alan take the tune, speeding it up.

It slows down again for the closing section, grinding along with a real sense of a man talking whom you should not **** with, a man who has been pushed far enough that just one more wrong look or word may push him over the edge. The guitar wails in counterpoint and we have a brief respite from the darkness as the last of the instrumentals, “Re-jigue”, is not a jig at all, but a very APP orchestral piece, like something off The Turn of a Friendly Card, but there's not much chance to appreciate it, as it's only two and a half minutes long, and anyway there's that closer I was speaking of to come.

An absolute classic in the making, the dark tone the album has suddenly taken is taken to its tragic conclusion in this tale of a woman who can take no more and decides to end it all. I won't lie – the first time I heard this I literally cried, and I still kind of do. “Oh Life! (There Must Be More)” opens on a little flute passage which then gives way to soft piano, David Pack taking the vocal in his final performance on the album as he tells the tale, paints the picture, rises with the woman as she climbs the hill in the early morning light, falls with her as she takes her last dive and bids the world farewell. ”No-one cared, no-one came/ No angel of mercy appears to know her name.” The power of this song gets me every time. I think it has to do with the way the drums punch along as Pack belts out the vocal with all the energy and passion he's capable of.

I think it's very brave of anyone to undertake to tackle the very thorny subject of suicide, doubly so to end your first solo album on what many people would consider a “downer”, but I found it incredibly moving and effective, and it left me both with an empty feeling and a sense of powerlessness as Pack sings ”She sees her future falling/ As she finds the ocean floor.” A conversation that needs to be had more, and discussed more, and understood more. This is just a song of course, and won't do that, but at least you're left with a strong and lasting impression of the plight of those poor people who find themselves in this impossible situation as the album fades out.

TRACK LISTING

The Three of Me
Turn it Up
Wine From the Water
Breakaway
Mr. Time
Jigue
I'm Talkin' to You
Siren Song
Dreamscape
Back Against the Wall
Re-jigue
Oh Life (There Must Be More)

It's really hard to find fault with this album, not that I have any wish to. It certainly doesn't have much of the progressive rock sensibilities evident on the last few Alan Parsons Project albums, but that was then and this is most definitely now (then) and surely Alan wants to get away from the idea of people thinking this is just the same band but without Eric Woolfson. He accomplishes that in a number of ways. First, he delegates much of the writing to Ian Bairnson, something he has never done before – it was always he and Woolfson. Is that an indication that Woolfson was his Bernie Taupin, and that he can write music but not lyrics? I don't know, but the lion's share of his solo writing here is instrumental, so that could be a thing.

Second, he's gone for quite a darker tone on much of this album, certainly as evidenced on the last two tracks, where he shows us a much more adult, mature, realistic view of his songwriting (Bairnson may have written “Back Against the Wall” but I'm sure the boss had to okay it) and third, the songs are mostly shorter, though there is Mr. Time, their longest ever. In other ways though, he's maintained the core sound of the APP, including those instrumentals and the sense of wry humour shown on songs such as “Pyramania” and “Psychobabble” and “Money Talks”. So in a way, this is both very definitely an Alan Parsons Project album, and very definitely not one. What it is, without doubt though, is a powerful statement by the man that he's not going to fade away without Eric Woolfson, that he has a lot more in the tank, and he's here to stay.

Rating: 9.8/10
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