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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alan Parsons Project: Pyramid


ALAN PARSONS PROJECT: PYRAMID (1978)

1) Voyager; 2) What Goes Up...; 3) The Eagle Will Rise Again; 4) One More River; 5) Can't Take It With You; 6) In The Lap Of The Gods; 7) Pyromania; 8) Hyper-Gamma-Spaces; 9) Shadow Of A Lonely Man.

Pyramid sold a little less than I Robot, perhaps because it was neither punk nor disco, and it did not have 'Come Sail Away' on it, either. For all the critical derision that the Alan Parsons Project got through the years, they never abased themselves to blunt populism. If, with each new album, they were becoming more «pop» than «prog» — well, heck, so did Pink Floyd, more or less.

On the down side of things, the textures of Pyramid, even on instrumentals that had so far tended to represent the complex, demanding side of the Project, had by 1978 drifted dangerously close to the Elton John/Billy Joel fief, perhaps over a conscious attempt to avoid being called cheap Floyd clo­nes (all the more curious as to why none of the songs were hits; sheer lack of luck, I suspect). 'In The Lap Of The Gods', in quite a few of its places, brings to mind 'Funeral For A Friend' — the same sort of get-rich-quick-with-a-keyboard-riff attitude that the seasoned prog fan will want to detest and deride for pandering to the oligophreny-inclined segment of the population, before retreating into his world created by Roger Dean and jointly ruled from Canterbury and Kobaia.

On the up side, this is definitely not Styx we are talking about. Even if going a bit overboard with the sentimental and the simplistic bits, Parsons and Woolfson have not let down their sense of taste, and there is not an ounce of cheap populist melodrama on Pyramid that so many of their «Serious» contemporaries had wilfully submitted to. Think about it: an artist of lesser stature, ri­ding the «pyramid power» craze of the 1970s, would have, most likely, released a bunch of bull­shit anthems on all sorts of paranormal hogwash. The Project, on the other hand, upon calling their album Pyramid, deal out just one cruel, lambasting, but fully deserved blow to Patrick Fla­nagan's charlatan tripe ('Pyromania') — and dedicate the rest of the album to the real historical pyramids and the living gods they were built for. Of course, it's not like they really did their homework on Egyptian history or anything — but then, not everyone is supposed be the pop music equivalent of the BBC History Channel à la Al Stewart.

In basic spiritual terms, The Project remains completely true to its essence: musical reflections on the sad, pathetic aspect of human existence. 'What Goes Up...' expectedly ends in "...must come down", and if the songs are not about the vanity of constructing pyramids, they are about the va­nity of constructing personalities. E. g. my personal favorite, 'Can't Take It With You', a pretty folk-pop song that pairs a very Revolver-like electric riff with very Byrds-like vocals (Dean Ford takes the lead) to remind us of the fact that we cannot take it with us indeed — when we go, that is, regardless of what the "it" is. Banal, yes, but it works.

In this respect, sentimental ballads such as 'The Eagle Will Rise Again' (sung by former Zombie Colin Blunstone) and 'Shadow Of A Lonely Man' (sung by John Miles) work very well: they are insecure, frail, and pitiful, with soft, breaking vocals (Miles almost seems to be crying in his ja­cket when delivering his lines) perfectly matching the melodies and the lyrical content, even if this limp thing can turn off many a rockier listener. The only time when the ensemble does try to rock out — very mildly — is on the Lenny Zakatek-sung 'One More River', a song that rolls along with a good punch, but feels a bit out of place, a strange attempt at pointless gung-ho opti­mism amidst a sea of self-doubt and cynicism.

Nevertheless, there are really no serious misfires. If it ain't a masterpiece for the ages, it is still a finely designed, deeply felt, and professionally executed concept album, on which The Project's usual «coldness» — as always, provided mostly through Alan's velvet keyboard sound — for the third time around, is a perfect conductor for the moods/ideas these guys want to make you ex­perience or ponder upon. They nail it with the first doom-laden steps of 'What Goes Up...' and never really let go.

And there is every pos­sibility that even tracks that are the easiest one to dismiss might come back to haunt you (on the strength of Pyramid Power, no doubt!) — that keyboard theme from 'Hyper-Gamma-Spaces', for instance, no matter how dumb and repetitive it is, has pretty much stuck with me for good, I beli­eve; it is about as hard to shake off as the riff for 'Satisfaction'. As for 'Pyro­mania', the «kiddie humour» bit of the album, I really like it, not so much for alleviating the mood (The Project work as soft, never as hard, depressants, so there is really not much need for any arti­ficial cloudbursting) as for stating so clearly and explicitly that the album and the band have nothing to do with cheap pocketbook mysticism, and are as happy as the next intelligent person to give it a proper whipping. It's good, clean fun.

In short, if this is «poor man's progressive rock» — and, from certain formal points of view, it might very well be — consider stepping into a poor man's shoes for fourty minutes, and join me in my unequivocal thumbs up.


Check "Pyramid" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Pyramid" (MP3) on Amazon

2 comments:

  1. I'll gladly join you. Was my first touch of APP in my teens (my uncle had the original TAPE, guess what) and passed it to me around 1996. And I still think it's honest, intelligent, professional, unpretentious poor man's prog rock.

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  2. Correctamundo. The ballads are great again (yawn) and "Pyramania" is really fun stuff. Also, "Can't Take It With You" is great, and the psych parts after the choruses are COOL. I can hardly remember anything about "One More River", but I do know that Lenny Zaketek is my current favorite APP vocalist, so maybe I'll like it on "One More Listen". However, the instrumentals are starting to deteriorate- "In the Lap of the Gods" is great while it lasts, but I can't remember anything about it when it's over, and "Spaces" is basically the prequel to "Mammagamma". But "Voyager" is really nice in its repetitiveness. The album is really nice.

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