AL STEWART: 24 CARROTS (1980)
1) Running Man; 2) Midnight Rocks; 3) Constantinople; 4) Merlin's Time; 5) Mondo Sinistro; 6) Murmansk Run/Ellis Island; 7) Rocks In The Ocean; 8) Paint By Numbers; 9) Optical Illusion.
How hard is it to produce an Alan Parsons album if you are only Al Stewart, and the real Alan Parsons is no longer there to assist you in sacrificing to that dangerous deity known as The Lord MOR? Answer: very, very hard. And in the Eighties — pretty much impossible even if you are Alan Parsons himself, rather than Al Stewart.
24 Carrots is not nearly as depressing as some of Al's later variations on the life support system, but, in terms of living/breathing instruments, it is almost non-existent. Not only Parsons, but Tim Renwick as well has vanished — in fact, pretty much the entire backing band is newly assembled, headed by professional, but way too technically-minded fusion guitarist Peter White, who also assists Al with much of the songwriting. The electronic currents have not yet gained the upper hand, but all of the riffs and even most of the solos have a decidedly programmatic aura around them; new producer Chris Desmond turns out to be twice the mathematician Alan Parsons used to be, but without the latter's understanding of the concept of beauty — as Pythagorean as it was with Parsons, at least he trusted the Muse to guide him. The guidance patterns of Chris Desmond are unknown to me, and I'd rather not guess.
Much of the material is catchy, as usual, but this is the first Stewart record which actively brings on the question — why do we have to listen to it? Who needs an impoverished, third-rate copy of Year Of The Cat? The only new ingredient is a brand of faster-paced, slightly crunchier, harder-rocking near-dance numbers that are, at best, undistinguishable from generic mid-to-late Seventies radio fodder ('Paint By Numbers', although I admit the guilt of really digging the ecstatic guitar solos — so predictable, but so brilliantly constructed!), and, at worst, designed as corny jokes but not immediately guessable as such ('Mondo Sinistro' — unless you have a very, very wide-reaching sense of humor that allows you to openly enjoy Benny Hill with the same passion as Monty Python, you will probably deem this the worst Stewart song written up to that point).
Apart from this questionable innovation, what is there to tell? A few of the songs are relatively unmarred by the antiseptic production and bring on vague recollections of Stewart's pre-Parsons years: e. g. the mandolin-heavy waltz of 'Rocks In The Ocean' and the medievalistic 'Merlin's Time' (although the latter is awfully derivative of 'Jerusalem', I must say). The lead single 'Midnight Rocks' comes with the obligatory sax solo, but is no 'Year Of The Cat' for sure. 'Constantinople' is the obligatory history listen to remind you of the fateful events of the year 1453 through politically incorrect lines like "I see the hosts of Mohammed coming" and a permanently wailing, never erring guitar riff that periodically disintegrates into a flurry of permanently wailing, never erring guitar solo notes.
If you are younger than Christ and your blood is still boiling, do not come near the record — its vibes will most likely be atrocious, as befits the vibes on any essentially stillborn album. If, on the other hand, you have somewhat calmed down, you might understand my thumbs up: 'Mondo Sinistro' is the only true crime against good taste on here, and there is plenty of melodicity, intelligence, and — not the least important — humility to keep a middle-aged person satisfied.