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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Alan Parsons Project: Stereotomy


1) Stereotomy; 2) Beaujolais; 3) Urbania; 4) Limelight; 5) In The Real World; 6) Where's The Walrus; 7) Light Of The World; 8) Chinese Whispers; 9) Stereotomy Two.

Perhaps, after all, it was the continuing neglect towards the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe — the man respon­sible for the very existence of The Alan Parsons Project — that underlied the Project's slo­wly ongoing decay? Just in case, it would make sense to invoke the great spirit one more time, at least briefly, by calling the album after a rarely-heard construction term that one usually learns on­ly from carefully reading Murders In The Rue Morgue.

'Stereotomy' is basically the art of ta­king big blocks and cutting them in differently shaped small ones; here it refers to the art of taking talented people and shaping them in various ways to please the shape master. Or perhaps not. If you really want it, you can read 'Stereotomy' (the title track) as a thinly masked invitation for a BDSM session: "Silent knives dissect me and I feel no pain... Stereotomy, we can make it together, do anything you want with me". Woolfson's lyrics were ne­ver all that inspiring, really — it used to be interesting to hear his poetic interpretations of Poe's prose, but he never truly capitalized on these early achievements.

The important thing is that Stereotomy is clearly a conscious attempt to recapture some of the complexity that had been sacrificed for the sakes of 'Eye In The Sky', 'Prime Time', and 'Hawk­eye'. An album gloomier, denser, and heavier than at least the last three of their records — so much so that, first time in years, Woolfson even steps away from the mike to avoid the temptation of falling back on McCartneyisms. A pity, that: I loved his McCartneyisms, certainly much more so than any given «serious» piece of vocals from, say, Lenny Zakatek.

Ironically, it does not work. By late 1985, it was obviously too late for these guys to believe that they could still produce «pure» art-rock masterpieces without leaning too far over to the pop side. One major reason is instrumentation: no matter how anti-commercial they are trying to get, Ste­re­o­tomy fully relies on generic techniques of the day — stiff electronic keyboards and polished, glossy «heavy» guitar riffs learned from arena-rock masters. As a result, overall, the sound is ve­ry, very dull, even for the standards of The Alan Parsons Project, a band very well known for be­ing commonly hated for the general dullness of its sound.

There are some songs here that have no reason to be heard from Parsons and Woolfson. 'In The Real World', for instance, rather belongs on a bad Foreigner record; give me Woolfson's simplis­tic, but lovable and unpretentious pop melodicity over this fat, ugly stadium sound any day. For 'Limelight', they come up with a first, recruiting Procol Harum's Gary Brooker to sing lead vocals — and the number sounds, yes indeed, like a weak outtake from a solo Gary Brooker record, a ty­pically soulful delivery set to some of the laziest, languid-est keyboard chuck-chucks ever heard. Chris Rainbow is wasted on 'Beaujolais', a synth-popper whose main claim to fame is a careful, intricate arrangement of vocal harmonies on the chorus. The other claim is probably just that it sounds like one of the silliest numbers in Alan's entire catalog.

Still they plow on, making the title track run well over seven minutes and returning to the practice of producing artsy instrumentals — including the bombastic synthfest 'Where's The Walrus?', which even managed to earn a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental (I think it lost). The ti­tle may be a sly reference to Magical Mystery Tour, but the main theme of the track sounds un­cannily like a potential soundtrack theme to some third-rate detective soap or computer game — again, primarily due to the unfortunate choices of arrangement. For all his studio craft, Parsons is not a super-cool master of electronica: he still represents the «old» school of music-making, and thus, falls in the same trap as so many of his colleagues who somehow thought that continuing to make music in the old way with their new digital toys, all those Fairlight CMIs, would result in a successfully modernized version of the classical spirit. From that angle, Stereotomy is even more pitiful than Vulture Culture (although, granted, both still exercise far more restraint and intelli­gence than something like Jethro Tull's Under Wraps). A transparent and unfortunate thumbs down here — not even a single song I could wholeheartedly recommend.

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


  1. By late 1985, it was obviously too late for these guys to believe that they could still produce «pure» art-rock masterpieces without leaning too far over to the pop side. (C)

    Yeah...I don't think they were really trying that much here. Very 80-es radio friendly this one, still. Shouldn't produce two records per year also - too much filler. However, imo, they did produce something worth of a glory early days with Freudiana in 1990 - that was a pleasant surprise out of nowhere. Well, i'm starting to repeat myself, like APP on this stage of their career. :)

  2. Well, as it turns out, a bunch of this is a LOT better then SOME of the stuff on "Avenue" and "Culture". But there's no Eric! Give us Eric! He does get a little of the title track... ooh, that one's creepy, with a scary intro and distorted guitars and lyrics basically saying "You can cut me up into little pieces, Eugene." More Pink Floyd?
    Then there's "Beaujolais", which is just so silly and fun, and "Limelight" with Gary Brooker (so glad you introduced me to Procol Harum, George!) which ISN'T GORGEOUS, and "In the Real World" which does sound hip-happy and a lot like Foreigner, and "Light of the World" which doesn't really do anything. Then there are the instros- ugh- "Urbania" isn't bad, but "Where's the Walrus?" is just stupid. It is so monotonous and LOOOOONG that even I, prog fan that I am, can not stand it. There are also "Chinese Whispers" and even a reprise of the title track... don't know what they're really for, but okay, this album is bad. But it does have a few good... actually, no...

  3. Count me in among the few fans of this album (along with AP himself, of course). I think it's one of the most extreme examples of a grower, I didn't like it at all when I first heard it, but now I think it's brilliant. The title track, its two reprises at the end ("Chinese Whispers" uses the same chord sequence as Eric's part from "Stereotomy"), "Limelight", "Urbania" (those complex keyboards!) and of course the "detective movie soundtrack" "Where's the Walrus" (just amazing) are all standouts for me. The best post-Eye in the Sky APP album in my book.

  4. Well, I do think it’s a big comeback from the trivial sound of the previous album. I do have to agree, however, that the predominance of 80’s-type synths makes a lot of the album, ironically, sound more dated than their earlier stuff. The choice of vocalists also makes the album sound less diverse, as well. Even the return of APP veterans Rainbow and Miles (who last appeared on Tales..) doesn’t help – they sound just as generic as everyone else.
    Including Gary Brooker. I was quite surprised to learn that it was him singing on the schlocky “Limelight”. I don’t think it sounds like Procol Harum at all. To me, it sounds like the big “climatic” number in a corny Broadway musical, unintentionally foreshadowing Woolfson’s eventual embracing of that genre. It gets my vote for second worst tune here, with the dishonor for biggest album bomb going to the hideous "Light of the World". The vocals are what undo this song. The Dye brothers sound like Dennis DeYoung sped up by a semitone or three. Ugh!
    Otherwise, the other songs at least have something going for them either musically or lyrically. Although Woolfson didn’t seem to intentionally devise a concept for the album, the lyrics seem to mostly deal with searching for and finding fame and fortune and the negative consequences thereof. The synths work best on the instrumentals. “Chinese Whispers" is an interesting bit of experimentation. "Urbania" conjures, perhaps by accident, a cold, soulless urban landscape. And I do happen to like "Where's The Walrus?" (it’s title does indeed refer to a radio consultant telling Parsons that his recent music lacked power and big hit songs) quite a bit. The combination of keyboards, Richard Cottle’s sax and Ian Bairson’s guitar make this one sound like a pretty exciting piece of a movie soundtrack.
    Still, I’d only want that one and the title track to rotate in my Parsons playlist on a regular basis. That gets my vote for top tune. Miles’ vocals are somewhat grittier here; the music has a tougher sound as well; and Woolfson’s using the word “stereotomy” as a metaphor for allowing oneself to be manipulated or sold out results in the album’s best lyrics. (Given Parsons’ reputation, when I first heard the album title, I assumed that the word had a sonic implication).
    While this certainly doesn’t deserve a place among Alan’s classic albums, it has enough to suggest that he wasn’t washed up yet.