Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Alan Parsons Project (II): pyramids, women and gambling

One week ago, I wrote about the early albums of The Alan Parsons Project. In this post I continue talking about their albums in chronological order. As it's one of my favourite bands, top3 I'd say, I'll write about each and every album they produced, even the ones that are a bit below average for their standards. If you don't have much time or just want to go straight to the really good stuff, skip the first two albums of the post. The third one, The Turn Of A Friendly Card, is the true star here. As always, here's the link to the blog's facebook page, if anyone has music to recommend, please do it there!

So, back to Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson. The British duo would release Pyramid in 1978. While it’s not a bad album at all, it pales in comparison to its two predecessors. As you can imagine, it deals with pyramids, their mystique, etc, pretty normal considering there was a wide interest in them at the time, at least in the UK and the States.

Although the album is not that good overall, it kicks off with one of the Project’s little jewels, a less-is-more instrumental called Voyager. Simple and effective, it makes you want more. This introduction is linked (I mean, the sound doesn’t stop completely) to the first proper song of the album, What Goes Up. This combination of short instrumental and longer song linked together is also present in their first album and in their biggest one, Eye In The Sky. Anyway, What Goes Up is still a good song, especially the instrumental parts, where electric guitar and orchestra are put together again.

Then comes one of the best songs in the album, or so people say. I personally find The Eagle Will Rise Again languid, slow, cheesy. Not my thing, to be honest. The exact same thing happens with the last song, Shadow Of A Lonely Man. To finish with the disappointments, One More River and Can’t Take It With You are definitely more enjoyable songs but still far from the best tunes crafted by Parsons and Woolfson.

There are only three more songs in the album. Pyramania is a great song if you feel hyperactive. Ok, it’s not a big deal but it’s kind of funny. Hyper-Gamma Spaces is a great song if... if... if you’re high on something, I guess. I’m just fond of it for some reason. There was a video on youtube which combined this song with some pictures which had weird optical effects, perfect for an epileptic seizure. The video got deleted though, I found a new one but it’s not the same thing.

Finally there’s In The Lap Of The Gods, absolutely fantastic instrumental... you really feel you are where the song says. Powell’s orchestra and some vocal choirs shine again and, although the whole thing is superb, the last hundred seconds are delightful. Such elegance, such greatness, it makes my hair stand on end.

Eve came out in 1979. While (slightly) better than its predecessor, it’s still below average (or at least far from the great stuff) when it comes to this band’s standards. The album is about the female’s overpowering effect on man, because let’s face it, weak sex? You girls do what you want with us!

Joking apart, the two instrumental tracks are, as always, very good, particularly the opener, Lucifer. Nothing new to explain here, one melody, another one joins, etc. Mysterious and haunting, as always.

The sung tracks, though... I don’t know, many of them seem kind of bland, irrelevant. Sure, the lyrics are good and there are some nice details (Winding Me Up, a song about how a woman is able to dominate her boyfriend or whatever, starts with the sound of a wind-up doll being cranked). Still, I don’t find anything special about You Won’t Be There, You Lie Down With Dogs, Don’t Hold Back and I’d Rather Be A Man. Winding Me Up has at least a cool instrumental intermezzo, the orchestra provides an excellent back-up in Damned If I Do, and the sadly deceased Lesley Duncan delights us with her beautiful voice in If I Could Change Your Mind. All in all, it’s still a rather forgettable album, in my opinion.

The next album may need a longer explanation. After two disappointing CDs, Parsons and Woolfson recharged batteries and started the eighties nailing it. On the spot. 1980’s The Turn Of A Friendly Card may be their best album (it’s either this or their debut one). It deals with the story of a man who starts gambling and loses everything.

First of all... the album design is extremely cool! That makes me feel less sorry about buying the album before having proper internet and knowing the correct websites to download this stuff.

May Be A Price To Pay kicks off the album. An orchestra, arranged and conducted as always by Andrew Powell, starts the song, first making you hold your breath thinking what’s next, and then officially welcoming us to the eighties with a catchy instrumental intro, which leads to the voice of Elmer Gantry, who does a good job here. Games People Play is even catchier though, and it was a pretty big hit back then, a very 80s disco-like track.

Time features the first appearance of Eric Woolfson as lead singer. Alan Parsons was not a big fan of his partner’s voice, which is the reason why Woolfson didn’t take the main singing role before that. The change proved to be a great decision, as Woolfson’s sweet and dreamy voice dominated most of TAPP’s subsequent hits. In the little booklet that comes with the remastered edition of the CD, Parsons literally admits he misjudged his partner’s vocal talents. The song reminds me of Spanish poet Jorge Manrique and his comparison between life and a river.

The album is so good that even pretty nice songs such as I Don’t Wanna Go Home, Snake Eyes (the casino sounds were recorded by the duo in Montecarlo’s casinos) and the instrumental The Ace Of Swords (which kicks off well but later seems more like just the “skeleton” of a song, a bit underarranged) seem almost dull.

The Gold Bug (which, by the way, is the title of a story by Edgar Allan Poe) is a tremendously cool instrumental. It starts with some whistling and then guitars, bass and amongst others are added one after the other. Because of its title, it makes me think of (and no, I’m not drunk or high or anything like that) a fat gold bug (which would be the bass guitar) walking in an almost dancing way while being joined by different insects each time a new instrument makes its way into the song. Ok, this was weird. Ahem. Let’s continue, shall we?

The Turn Of A Friendly Card is a sixteen minute suite composed of five tracks: The Turn Of A Friendly Card (part 1), Snake Eyes, The Ace Of Swords, Nothing Left To Lose and The Turn Of A Friendly Card (part 2). The last two songs are outstanding. Nothing Left To Lose is a ballad-like composition sung again by Woolfson and features a beautiful accordion solo by an anonymous Parisian session musician. Unfortunately, the instrumental epilogue, while good, doesn’t fit the rest of the song at all (if you read the first post about The Alan Parsons Project, the same happened with I Robot’s Don’t Let It Show). The second part of The Turn Of A Friendly Card does have a wonderful instrumental part which skillfully combines, as in so many other occasions, Ian Bairnson’s electric guitar and Andrew Powell’s orchestra.

Although there are five more APP albums, next time I'll probably write about something different and I'll leave those albums for later.


  1. I sort of agree on "Pyramid", although "Pyramania" is such a great jovial song I can't think ever say anything negative about the album.

    "Eve" is where we disagree. The vocal tracks are sufficiently strong to make it among their best. You have Townsend's soothing voiced "You Won't Be There", along with another great Zakatek song "Damned If I Do", and ofcourse Duncan's "If I Could Change Your Mind" is simply incomparable.

    "Lucifer" is one of their very best instrumentals. And also enjoy "You Lie Down with Dogs", though it sounds a bit more ELO maybe?

    Nothing more to say about "Turn of a Friendly Card" than you did. brilliant. It has the two of the band's greatest songs, the title track and obviously "Time" (the latter may be, along with "Eye in the Sky" their most popular).

    Incidentally, I'm surprised a Jethro Tull fan would like APP, given that they were never (except maybe their first album) a pure progressive rock band. Honestly, they're more "soft rock" than prog rock.

    Thanks for linking to your article on Youtube and best of luck.

    1. Hi Dar! Thanks again for writing.

      Yeah Pyramania is certainly a song that puts me in a good mood. About Eve, well it's just a matter of taste, as everything in music. I often find my mind drifting and thinking about something else when I listen to most of the vocal tracks on Eve (well, never with Damned If I Do and If I Could Change Your Mind, I love those). It's hard to explain why you like some music or not, and for some reason I can't explain Eve is not amongst my favourites. Lucifer is indeed one of their best instrumentals, but well, almost all their instrumentals are brilliant in my opinion. Arrival, Genesis, In The Lap Of The Gods, Pipeline (that may be my favourite)...

      I have barely listened to ELO so I can't really give an opinion about the comparison you wrote.

      The Turn of a Friendly Card is one of those albums with a rare consistency, there are just no dull songs. It's a brilliant album indeed, and I personally like it even more than Eye In The Sky, which is very good but has two or three songs that are a step down, I'd say.

      Well, Jethro Tull is not a pure progressive rock band either, they've done so many things. And it's thanks to them and to their variety that I started to be curious about other kinds of music. Nowadays I listen to a wide range of stuff (although I discovered these two bands exactly the same day! and enjoyed both from the beginning).

      Again, thanks! It's nice to know somebody reads this stuff and cares enough to write a comment giving an opinion.

    2. Ah I don't know much about Jethro Tull except that they seem to rate perhaps only after Pink Floyd and (Gabriel era) genesis as the most mentioned/celebrated prog-rock band.

      Anyway, it's good you put the links on your Youtube videos. Slowly others viewers will stop by.

      Take care.

  2. Nice i knew you would mention it...Pyramid is awesome..