ALAN PARSONS PROJECT: STEREOTOMY (1985)
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.
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