Sunday, October 5, 2008

Alan Parson Project

So, I've been a longtime fan of the Alan Parsons Project since discovering their second (and still best) album during my summer at Fayetteville in 1978. Recently I've been trying to track down various odds and ends that I hadn't been able to find before, and thanks to the wonders of the Internet just over the last week or so I've finally gotten three new things.

The first was KEATS, which I first heard of about five years back. A friend (hi Rich) had loaned me a tape of Eric Woolfson's FREUDIANA, which I'd liked v. much and was trying to find a copy of for myself. Woolfson was Parson's partner in all of the albums they made together up through about 1987 or so, after which the two split (which is why there hasn't been an 'Alan Parsons PROJECT' album since, although there have been four 'Alan Parsons' albums, three of wh. have been good, one of them a match for the Project itself in its glory days.

Anyway, I first heard of KEATS as a second Woolfson solo project, in which it (and, puzzlingly, FREUDIANA) was described as a 'soundtrack'. After years of hoping I'd come across it somewhere, even taxing the expertise of the good folks at Silver Platter Records, a renewed search showed it was (a) not by Woolfson, and (b) not a soundtrack. Instead, it was Alan Parsons' studio musicians joining up with a singer to put out an album by themselves.

The results, regrettably, sound like content-free Alan Parsons Project: the sound is there but no concept; song flows into song without leaving an impression behind. You know you're in trouble when the best thing on yr album are the two commentary tracks added years later to the cd in which a member of the group and Alan Parsons himself reminisce about the attempt. So, pleasant enough background noise but only for completists.

The second recent purchase was a newer [2003] album I'd completely missed: a sequel by Woolfson (without Parsons) to their first album together (TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION, aka the Poe album) and still one of their three or four bests. Woolfson's follow-up (unimaginatively titled POE: MORE TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION) sounds much more like FREUDIANA than it does any Alan Parsons Project album. The main problem is that, while some of the songs are good or at least interesting or amusing, most of them have nothing to do with Poe. Whereas the original Parsons album had all its songs based on Poe stories and poems, that's the case with only four of the twelve songs here. The rest are filled with songs Woolfson somehow feels appropriate to Poe's life and times, like a lullabye his mother might have sung to him as a small child ("Tiny Star". The best song on the album, "Train to Freedom", about building the railroad, has nothing whatsoever to do with Poe, so far as I can tell (other than that they DID build railroads in his lifetime), but is a sort of John Henry spiritual with hints at the underground railroad (wh. Poe, I'm sorry to say, wd probably not have supported). "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is Poe-based, but gimmicky (it rather resembles the much better "It's Funny You Shd Say That" from FREUDIANA) and sounds like a production number from some musical; "Goodbye to All That", which seems to be inspired by Dunsany* rather than Poe, wouldn't be out of place as an out-take from EVITA. So mark this one down as interesting but not really good; perfect for a completist who enjoys both the musician and his topic (as I do).

The third purchase, and best of all, came courtesy of Itunes. In the course of poking around to find out what Alan Parsons material might be out there that I didn't know about, I came across two songs included in recent deluxe re-releases of classic Alan Parsons Project albums: "Edgar", a song by Woolfson that predates TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION (the first Parsons Project album), and "No Answers Only Questions", a Parsons Project song that didn't make the cut for some album, now released as part of a greatest hits package (one of the group's many). Neither is so outstanding that you'd feel robbed not to have had them all these years, but both are unmistakably the real thing, and v. welcome.

And, best of all, all this new music has had me listening to my old Parson Project/Alan Parsons albums more than usual.


*I'm thinking of the devastating little story "In the Twilight", a first-person account by a drowning man, from THE SWORD OF WELLERAN [1908].

UPDATE (W.10/8): A closer listen and a look at the lyrics shows I was wrong about "Goodbye to All That", which is more a cynical counterpoint to Paul Stookey's "Wedding Song" than anything else. The liner notes for the cd claim it's about Poe's marriage to Virginia, but nothing in the lyrics supports that. --JDR

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