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Old 09-30-2021, 01:48 PM   #11 (permalink)
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I must say I was quite impressed with a couple of the songs you posted from Pyramid.

Use of more than one vocalist does not bother me at all if the songs are good enough and suit the singers. These songs are a little reminiscent of some of Tony Banks' solo albums, on which he farms out the singing duties to other people, such as Nick Kershaw, Toyah Wilcox, and Fish. I think if you like this early Alan Parsons stuff you might enjoy albums like Still and Strictly Inc.
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Old 09-30-2021, 06:16 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Yes I'm a big Genesis fan, and I have a few of Tony's solo albums - A Curious Feeling, BankStatement, Seven, a few others. I don't particularly mind the assorted vocalists thing either - at least I don't have to listen to Lenny all the time! But some people, I know, get used to one singer and it's a bit of a jolt if anyone else takes the vocal duties, even with a band like Deacon Blue or Prefab Sprout or The Beautiful South it can be a little jarring when you hear a new voice. But coming from a prog background I'm used to that, with bands like Mostly Autumn and then of course there's the Eagles and bands like that, so no, it's no real problem to me either, as long as I like all the vocalists, and with a few small exceptions, I do.

If you enjoyed Pyramid my advice would be to move on to Ammonia Avenue and Gaudi, which for my money are two of the better albums, though as I say his solo stuff rocks too - well, the first two albums anyway.
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Old 10-01-2021, 07:46 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
Yep they use "Sirius", the instrumental intro to the title track as their run-out song or something don't they? I think Parsons never actually courted hit singles; if you look at his and the Project's output, there's plenty of songs on albums like the ones I mentioned as well as Stereotomy and even Vulture Culture (which I consider to be a poor album but it did give them an MTV hit in "Let's Talk About Me") that could have yielded hit singles but didn't. I think the fact that it was always called The Alan Parsons Project and never Band indicates how loose a collection of musicians it was: everyone was always off doing other things, and also the fact that they almost never played live shows too that they weren't too bothered about mainstream chart commercial success. Even so, almost all of their albums sold well, and compilations still continue to do so.
Those were some exciting times.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zn6kiimEsYc
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Old 10-01-2021, 10:56 AM   #14 (permalink)
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I think the fact that it was always called The Alan Parsons Project and never Band indicates how loose a collection of musicians it was: everyone was always off doing other things, and also the fact that they almost never played live shows too that they weren't too bothered about mainstream chart commercial success.
In the liner notes to the remastered CD of Tales, Parsons states that "The Alan Parsons Project" was originally a name to refer to "the thing you are holding in your hand." That is, the Tales album WAS the project. It was only after they became satisfied with that release and decided to release more music that the "project" began to refer to the band itself.
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Old 10-01-2021, 12:09 PM   #15 (permalink)
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I see. Interesting stuff. I guess they just found it was a project that worked. I came to them through "Eye in the Sky" and "Old and Wise", later "Don't Answer Me", and just started getting their albums. I can't claim to have been, like some bands I got into (Marillion for instance) in on the ground floor, so to speak, but once I got into them I did my usual and started buying all their albums. I was into them early enough for Ammonia Avenue to be a new album, not just for me buying it, but actually new, so after that all the releases I bought were as they came out.
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Old 10-01-2021, 06:47 PM   #16 (permalink)
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On Air (1996)


The second of Alan Parsons' solo efforts, On Air was conceived with ex-Alan Parsons Project guitarist Ian Bairnson, and is a concept album, based on the theme of flight. It kicks off with a short little snippet of a song which will later be heard in its entirety, called “Blue Blue Sky”. The track begins with the sound of birdsong, then acoustic guitar as the vocal is sung in leisurely fashion by Eric Stewart, who sings one other track and will also reprise this in full later. This leads into “Too Close To the Sun”, as Parsons goes right back into antiquity and legend to relate the tale of Icarus. It's a basically keyboard-led song, with you-know-who at the keys, some nice sax and a taped part halfway where some children talk about the Icarus legend in the innocent way of the very young. Neil Lockwood takes vocal duties on this, while Stewart is back for “Blown By the Wind”, a ballad but much more guitar-led, based on the sport of hot-air ballooning, which ties in nicely with the album sleeve. There's a great sense of freedom in the lyric, as the wind takes the balloon away, up into the blue: ”Now everything that we possess/ That fills our empty lives/ Is only good for leaving far behind.” Often felt like that!

Although this is credited as an Alan Parsons album, it's Ian Bairnson who writes or co-writes every song but one, with Parsons collaborating on four of the eleven tracks. One of those four is the next track, “Cloudbreak”, which is an instrumental, starting off with the sound of a propeller engine starting up. It's an uptempo track, lots of good keyboard but again mostly guitar, played by Bairnson himself. Definitely gives the idea of flight: you could imagine it as the backing track on one of those National Geographic shows or something like Classic Aircraft.

The fear of flying, a phobia many live with in their daily lives, is dealt with next in “I can't look down”, with Neil Lockwood again taking the mike. The track begins in very Alan Parsons Project style, with recordings of air traffic control over the opening, a sharp guitar as Lockwood sings ”Another passenger/ Your baggage, thank you sir/ I don't want to go!/ What am I doing here? / I feel so sick with fear/ Lord, please don't let it show!” As reluctant passenger settling into his seat, he worries ”What if the engine dies?/ These are no friendly skies.” It's a good rocky track, something in the mould of “Let's Talk About Me” from APP's Vulture Culture album, and written entirely by Bairnson.

Things get slow, and indeed spiritual next, for “Brother Up in Heaven”, a song written by Bairnson in honour and remembrance of his cousin, who was shot down over Iraq in a friendly-fire incident. It's a haunting piece, and you can feel the genuine pain in the lyric. It's a piano-led ballad, Parsons expertly restrained at the keyboard. Lockwood again takes vocals for this extremely personal song, and it's quite a highlight of the album as he sings ”It's strange here without you/ And it's so hard to see/ So brother up in Heaven/ Please wait up for me.” Some truly heartfelt guitar work from Bairnson really nails this down as his song.

Another dedication, the next track, “Fall free”, while not a ballad, is an homage to skysurfing champion Rob Harris, who died in 1995 while filming a commercial. For this song the guys draft in the vocal talents of FM's Steve Overland, and he does a great job on it. Starting off low-key, with just bass and then electric guitar, the song mushrooms into a powerful ode to the fallen skysurfer. It's followed then by a very curious instrumental, bass-led with good synth lines, which uses audio clips of former president John F. Kennedy talking about the importance of going to the moon to make its point. “Apollo” is about as close as Alan Parsons has come to house music, and in some ways is quite reminiscent of “Urbania” from Stereotomy, but with a much bouncier beat. You could dance to this!

“So Far Away” remembers the Space Shuttle program, is another ballad and has a very downbeat ending: ”Now they cry for justice/ As if justice will be done/ But the eye up in the sky/ Is flying too close to the sun/ Challenger is falling/ And the race has now been run.” Despite its doom-laden message, that's a very clever piece of writing, as it mentions Alan Parsons Project album Eye in the Sky and also one of the previous tracks, “Too Close to the Sun”. Another guest star on vocals here, this time the inimitable Christopher Cross.

In many ways, the centrepiece of the album is the penultimate track, “One Day to Fly”, which starts off as something of a ballad but changes halfway into an uptempo rocker, cataloguing the first efforts of Leonardo da Vinci to create flying machines, how he was ridiculed at the time, and how his vision came true, albeit hundreds of years after his death. ”Just a charcoal sketch on canvas/ Made them laugh, but now they see/ That the artist had a vision / That the wind would set us free.” It becomes a powerful little track and ends very dramatically, with a very typical Alan Parsons Project hook, leading into the closer, the full version of “Blue Blue Sky”, with Eric Stewart again on vocals, bringing the album full circle.

If you like the Alan Parsons Project the chances are you will like this album. If you're a fan of well-crafted and produced songs, you're probably going to like it. And if you're an aircraft enthusiast or have any interest in flight, it may have something to say to you. There's hardly a bad track on it, and I would certainly recommend it.

TRACK LISTING

1. Blue Blue Sky
2. Too Close To the Sun
3. Blown By the Wind
4. Cloudbreak
5. I Can't Look Down
6. Brother Up In Heaven
7. Fall Free
8. Apollo
9. So Far Away
10. One Day To Fly
11. Blue Blue Sky


Rating: 9.6/10
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Old 10-06-2021, 02:20 PM   #17 (permalink)
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I Robot (1977)


This is, to be fair, not one of my favourite albums from the Alan Parsons Project, but I came across this review in a forgotten folder of documents recently, and it seems to have been written for my original journal, way back in 2008. That's a long time ago, and hey, I wrote it, so it may as well see the light of day, even if it is four years later.

On the whole, their albums have been pretty much consistently good over the years, but if I had to pick one of theirs I consider to be slightly sub-par, which would be the Alan Parsons Project record I listen to least, and perhaps like least, this would be it. I certainly don't hate it - don't hate any APP album, although it shares second place with The Time Machine as the one of theirs I'm most disappointed with - but it would be one of the last albums I would suggest to someone who was thinking of checking out their music.

The second album released by the band, I Robot is not a bad album at all, I just think later releases were a lot better. But there’s a lot to be excited about on this album. Three really good ballads, as well as what became the trademark of the APP, the instrumental. The album starts and ends with one, though the closer, entitled “Genesis Ch 1 v.32” reveals something of a mystery, thirteen years later. For more, read on.

The Alan Parsons Project has always been famous for utilising as many vocalists almost as tracks on their albums, and people who have sung on their albums include the likes of Lenny Zakatek, Colin Blunstone, Eric Woolfson, Chris Rainbow, David Paton and Gary Brooker, to mention just a few. It helped keep them fresh, so that each new song sounded different, and it was a formula that worked for the APP for over thirty years.

The album opens on one of those instrumentals, which is in fact the title track. It's a slowburner, starting very quietly and coming in on rising synth and keys then choral vocals, which sound female but could of course be created on a synth float across the melody, pulling in that sound that was to become so familiar on APP albums, the sort of fast bassy run on the keys (or maybe it is a bass, I'm no expert) and the guitar riffs that became so identified with Parsons' work. It becomes quite boppy as many of the Alan Parsons Project's instrumentals do, or did, and the female choral voices are joined by male ones as the piece runs on. To Parsons' credit, it doesn't sound overly robotic, which is how you would probably have expected him to approach such a composition.

That takes us to the first vocal track, and a singer not too often used by APP, with a much rougher, more rock-and-roll voice than the likes of Blunstone and Woolfson, Lenny Zakatek. He usually tends to feature, if at all, on only one track per album, and here he puts in a good performance on “I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You”, with an ominous piano opening which soon kicks into a real rocker (for the APP, that is: they were not exactly ever known for totally rockin' out), and his voice really suits the track. In fact, you can see seeds sown here that would bear fruit in later albums. This song is echoed two years later in “You Lie Down With Dogs” and also “I’d Rather Be a Man”, both from the excellent Eve album.

The first of three ballads is next up, with the rather wistful and wonderful “Some Other Time” which, though it starts off all folky and pastoral and with Peter Straker on lead vocals gets a little rockier as it goes on. Straker would not feature on any other Parsons albums, and indeed many of the vocalists here - some of them legendary icons - would only sing on this album, before Alan established his stable of vocalists, among them Colin Blunstone, David Paton, Chris Rainbow and John Miles. “Breakdown” just doesn't do it for me. It's a mid-paced rocker but I feel it adds nothing to the album, and even with Hollies legend Allan Clarke on vocals I can't get into the song.

One of the standouts comes in the form of the second ballad, the gentle “Don't Let it Show”, on vocals a man who would reprise his role on the next album but after that there would be very little heard about Dave Townsend. It's a sterling turn from him here though, and his voice is very heartfelt and emotional. The song itself rides on soft organ from Parsons, with the slow but sudden percussion really filling out the track. Future echoes, as it were, from APP's big hit single “Old and Wise”, in the lyric, when he sings ”If you smile when they mention my name/ They'll never own you/ And if you laugh when they say I'm to blame/ They'll never know you”. It also features what I'd term the “Parsons march”, which became so much a part of the APP sound, and indeed it's this that takes the track out to fade.

Riding on a thick, funky bass and some seriously new-wave keyboards, “The Voice” is another song I could live without on this album, though to be fair they are in the minority. Another rock legend takes the mike to help Parsons out on this, and it's Cockney Rebel's Steve Harley. He does a great job, but can only work with what he's got, and I would put this in the realm of a bonus track or an unreleased one; I don't think it's good enough to be on the album.

It says something that out of the ten tracks on this album, four of them are instrumentals, and each different. Not too many bands could get away with that, but the Alan Parsons Project always did, primarily because their instrumentals were just so damn good! Take a listen to “Pipeline” from Ammonia Avenue, or “Hyper-gamma Spaces” from Pyramid to see what I mean. And who could forget the jaunty yet haunting “Sirius”, the lead-in to perhaps one of their most famous and successful tracks, the title from the Eye in the Sky album?

The second of these is next, with “Nucleus” a short, three-and-a-half minute piece that comes in on what sounds like NASA chatter and then floats on a big spacey atmospheric synth with no percussion; quite ELO in a way. Very celestial sounding, with some soft drumming making its way in on a faster rhythm than the main melody, a few little piano notes sprinkled along the way like breadcrumbs, the spacey synth segueing perfectly into the standout, and the third and final ballad, the beautiful and moving “Day After Day (The Show Must Go On)”, with some fine pedal steel from B.J. Cole and exquisite rippling and chiming keys. A song of looking back, realising some opportunities have gone but moving forward anyway, it's one of my favourite APP songs, full stop. Vocals are taken by Jack Harris, his only contribution to the album though he would resurface for next year's Pyramid.

Parsons then pulls the very unusual trick of finishing the album with not one, but two instrumentals. “Total Eclipse”, the only track on the album not written by he or Woolfson, is an eerie, minimalistic piece which indeed would be somewhat revisited on 1978's Pyramid in the track “In the Lap of the Gods”. It relies mostly on male and female vocal chorus, with what sounds like some sharp violin attack, and comes across almost as the incidental music to some low-budget horror movie. It is, to be blunt, weird. I don't particularly like it.

Ah, but then we close on “Genesis Ch1 v.32", which flows directly from “Total Eclipse” and ends the album triumphantly. There is a mystery here though (a “tale of mystery and imagination”, perhaps?) as an incredibly similar melody later shows up on Vangelis’s 1990 album The City, slightly (though not much) reworked and retitled “Procession”. This in itself is very odd, and something I remarked upon when reviewing The City a while back; Vangelis is certainly not known for covering other people's work - I don't think he ever has had a composition that wasn't original - and yet, the two songs are so similar it's virtually impossible to discount as coincidence. Perhaps the melody is based on some classical or other, older tune, yet this is referred to on neither artiste's album. A mystery, indeed, and one I've been trying to sort since I heard The City...

Despite this odd coincidence, if it is one, it's a great way to close the album and in general though I Robot doesn't consistently hit the highs I came to expect, and mostly got, from the Alan Parsons Project, it stands up quite well as their second album, and first of their own material, the debut being built around the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. A reasonable effort, and you could probably forgive them the few lower points on the album.

In conclusion then, a good album. Not a great album. But not a terrible one either. The good news was, there was much, much better to come.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Robot
2. I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You
3. Some Other Time
4. Breakdown
5. Don't Let it Show
6. The Voice
7. Day After Day (The Show Must Go On)
8. Nucleus
9. Total Eclipse
10. Genesis Ch. 1 v.32

Rating: 7.0/10
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Old 10-06-2021, 03:12 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Interesting what you say about not recommending I Robot to someone new to the APP. I think I like Tales better, but it may be a bit too proggy for some people, whereas I think I Robot hits the sweet spot between propressive and pop.

My first introduction to this album was the single, "I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You", and I remember thinking it was pretty ordinary. I now think it's perhaps the least interesting track on the album. It's one of those albums that I think gets better from the start almost to the end, Things reach a peak with "Day After Day", after which the remaining tracks seem more like little little afterthoughts to round out the album (but nicely though).

There was apparently a problem with the album title, which is why, unlike the anthology by Isaac Asimov, the title contains no comma. I don't think Asimov himself had any issue with their use of the title, but of course it was the publishers who had to be kept happy.
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Old 10-06-2021, 07:49 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Yeah I definitely wouldn't recommend TOMAI either. If I was introducing someone to the APP, to be honest, I'd go Eye in the Sky (cos everyone knows those two songs) then maybe Ammonia Avenue and perhaps Eve. I'd include Gaudi later, but the heavy reliance on the architect's life there might turn some people off. I just feel those albums have a better overall flow of really good tracks (I can't think of a bad one on Eve or Ammonia Avenue, and while I know Eye in the Sky has some weak stuff on it, its position as the album with "the hits" on it I think might cause them to be overlooked or accepted). Another one I would not recommend is Vulture Culture, which while again it has good tracks stands as one of the weakest of the albums for me. Also, despite my love for them, I don't believe good starting points would be Pyramid or The Turn of a Friendly Card - not too many non-proggers can take an epic of more than ten minutes!
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Old 10-06-2021, 07:53 PM   #20 (permalink)
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On a related point, I must say it's really nice to find someone new to talk about music I really like. I have my "allies" here, as it were, but overall most people are into stuff I'm not, and would scoff at Genesis, Marillion, APP or ELO. It's nice to have met someone who appreciates at least two of those bands, and it's been fun getting to know you musically. This is not meant in any way to be a gay come-on, in case you were worried. It's just been so long since someone I don't know for years has replied to any of my posts positively and with genuine interest, other than DianneW and Eleanor Rigby, who are two really nice ladies, but I haven't had this sort of in-depth discussion with anyone for years now, so thanks for that, and long may it continue.
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