ALAN PARSONS PROJECT: VULTURE CULTURE (1985)
1) Let's Talk About Me; 2) Separate Lives; 3) Days Are Numbers; 4) Sooner Or Later; 5) Vulture Culture; 6) Hawkeye; 7) Somebody Out There; 8) The Same Old Sun.
This hurried follow-up to Ammonia Avenue (it is rumoured the two were originally intended to form a double album) may be way too pop for even undemanding listeners. Now that no significantly new ideas were being contributed, the best they could do was to simply keep the Eye In The Sky formula afloat — but the Eighties were happening, and, sooner or later, the decade of electronic brimstone would have caught up with them anyway. Vulture Culture makes a point of railing against soulless commercialism, all the while being steeped in it. Today, we may say that this is exactly the way it was meant to be, yet it does not make the effort any least dated.
Of course, the Project had so much talent pooled that the results are crudely goofy rather than blandly atrocious. Something like 'Hawkeye' is probably awful from God's point of view, but if I describe it to him as «a Depeche Mode style take on Ukrainian Hopak», he might at least consider the possibility that freedom of choice does exist, because how could the Almighty ever sanction the production of 'Hawkeye'? That be sheer devil muzak!
Drum machines and crude tape loops spoil many a creative idea on this album, marrying Woolfson's gorgeous vocals to routine synth-pop like 'Separate Lives', and adding an aura of dorkiness to the usually cool performance of Lenny Zakatek on the title track (which is still as catchy as a dorky pop tune could ever hope to be: «Vulture culture, use it or you lose it...»). It is also hard to understand why they choose to emulate Supertramp on 'Let's Talk About Me' — who ordered Breakfast In America with its plaintive vocals and one-finger-on-the-piano melodies? It's not a bad emulation, but didn't these guys used to have, like, a vision?... all their own?...
The sap also flows a bit too freely on paradise-style ballads such as 'Days Are Numbers' and 'Same Old Sun', although denying the sincerity of Woolfson's romantic outbursts or the hard composing work that underlies them would be rude. One song only, as far as I can tell, approaches the highest standards of the pop benchmark: 'Sooner Or Later', which is technically this album's 'Eye In The Sky / Prime Time', i. e. a metronomically organized pop-rocker with a falsetto chorus from Eric, but melodically even more seductive than its predecessors — the vocal moves borrow from Jeff Lynne's style, which in turn borrowed from the Beatles, and I keep arguing with myself over whether it is the verse melody («Oh what a price we pay...») or the chorus («Sooner or later I'll be free...») that is the more touching. Guitar friend Ian Bairnson rises to the challenge, too, offering an economic, perfectly constructed pop solo.
It is easy to see how Vulture Culture is usually taken for the scapegoat in the band's catalog — their poppiest, their worst arranged, their runningest-out-of-fresh-ideas, so to say. The mid-Eighties were no walk in the park for most people. Still, it would only be a thumbs down by Parsons' own standards, and even then, I do not advise those who like the man's musical mindset to skip it or anything. Just keep in mind that the plank has been lowered.
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