These re-releases best serve as a reminder of the unacceptable face of progressive...
Tim Nelson 2007-04-20
The four albums that comprise 'Phase One' of the expanded and remastered re-release of the entirety of the Alan Parsons Project may still jog the memory of a few old hippies as the stuff you turned on between Pink Floyd releases, but for younger listeners, the most obvious reference is the use of the outfit's name as Dr Evil’s 'death ray' in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, appropriately enough considering how often their output suggests aural death through bloated pomposity.
The Project was formed around the nucleus of virtuoso producer Alan Parsons and songwriter Eric Woolfson. Parsons, who had started his career as assistant engineer on The Beatles Abbey Road, had earned great respect for his Grammy-nominated engineering on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and his subsequent work displays the benefits of a stuffed contacts list. The APP first burst onto the scene with Tales Of Mystery And Imagination (1976), an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s work that, in retrospect, makes a later Poe tribute, Lou Reed’s The Raven, seem a model of restraint. Immaculately produced and including such luminaries as Arthur Brown, John Miles and the band Pilot (and, in the 1987 remix also included, some narration by Orson Welles), the album is nevertheless a fairly indigestible mix of orchestral rock and classical experimentation. However, if you think Jack Black’s Tenacious D is a great rock band and not actually funny, you may well like it.
The Project‘s second album, I Robot (1977), while hardly less pretentious (its theme is the replacement of man by machine), is at least a more consistent blend of progressive rock, and adds Cockney Rebel front man Steve Harley to its list of contributors. Like its predecessor, it boasted a US hit single, this time with “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”, and adds a funkier, Steely Dan edge to the proceedings. However, at the remove of thirty years, it is noticeable that the most acceptable moments of the album are those without vocals, implying (no doubt unintentionally) that in the struggle of man against the machine, it might be better to switch sides.
The unfeasible success of APP led to a number of subsequent musical atrocities, including the latter two albums re-released here, Eye In The Sky (1982), an album 'about belief systems', although you would be forgiven for thinking it was about wet, FM-friendly rock, and Vulture Culture (1985), by which time APP was drowning under the weight of its AOR bombast. As with the earlier albums, the re-releases include a number of demos and unreleased tracks, as well as “Naked” medleys of extracts and rough mixes, seemingly designed to make the listener feel like Monty Python’s Mister Creosote being offered a 'wafer-thin' mint.
After 1980, hi-fi shops regularly used APP albums to demonstrate CD systems coming onto the market, which perhaps indicates the Project’s proper place in the scheme of things. While it is both surprising and depressing to note that the APP have managed 43 million album sales ('Without ever having played a live show!' as the press release boasts), some comfort can be taken from the fact that The Project have never had a major hit single in the UK. All in all, these re-releases best serve as a reminder of the unacceptable face of progressive rock and as a reminder of why punk rock had to happen. Perhaps John Lydon only scrawled 'I hate' above his Pink Floyd t-shirt because if he had used the Alan Parsons Project, no-one would have had any idea who he was talking about.