ALAN PARSONS PROJECT: GAUDI (1987)
1) La Sagrada Familia; 2) Too Late; 3) Closer To Heaven; 4) Standing On Higher Ground; 5) Money Talks; 6) Inside Looking Out; 7) Paseo De Gracia.
If you ever saw the coral reef-style oddity that is the Temple de La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, you'd probably want to make a concept album about it, too. Eric Woolfson went as far as to eventually remake the album into a musical — as close as an artist ever got to realizing Frank Zappa's sarcastic idea of dancing about architecture — and, at the very least, got some people to check out information on Antonio Gaudi, Barcelona, and weirdass architecture in general.
It is a whole different question of whether the music on here is more stimulating than the intellectual baggage. Gaudi essentially continues in the same direction as Stereotomy: heavily depending on by-the-book Eighties' sonic technologies, but also very strictly safeguarding the stability of the «artsiness» quotient. The title track is a bombastic, quasi-religious, suite-like structure; the lonesome instrumental at the end conceptually reprises the theme of the title track; and in between... well, here is the problem: in between, it's the same old adult contemporary.
Still, it works better than Stereotomy. 'La Sagrada Familia', not so much about the cathedral or its creator as it is about hope and faith, has John Miles adopt a Gary Brooker singing style, so that some of the passages sound suspiciously similar to 'Limelight' off the previous album, or to late period Procol Harum/solo Brooker records — bombastic and somewhat rigid prayers that do not overwhelm but do not annoy, either, because the singer is kinda likeable, not the kind of guy you'd expect to dedicate one song to angels high in heaven and then the next song to unsophisticated carnal delight, without making any serious distinction between the two. And Parsons' brass arrangements are always welcome: it is one of the few areas in which he has never failed, going just as strong as he used to ten years before.
Woolfson is back on vocals, gracing the somewhat too generically «angelic» 'Closer To Heaven' (I understand that the closer you get to heaven, the louder it gets, but the important question is: how much of a discount does St. Peter get on the SDS5 kit?) and 'Inside Looking Out', a complex, inspired prayer with some of the most gorgeous vocal moves on a Project record; it would have been an unquestionable highlight on any of the classic-period albums, but on Gaudi it remains mostly unnoticed.
Oddly, these intense, seriously emotional, prayer-like compositions are interspersed with rather crude synth-pop and Eighties-pop-rock slabs that provide diversity, but not necessarily quality. 'Money Talks', for instance, is a straightforward protest song whose message is more or less the same as the message of any other song with the word 'Money' in it, but this particular angry atmosphere seems to have been transposed directly from the Pink Floyd song (apparently, Alan's memories of 1973 had not ceased to haunt him yet), and since it is obviously futile to try and write a 'Money'-style song that would expand on the original 'Money', John Miles' effort predictably falls flat. 'Standing On Higher Ground' is too much routed in Norwegian synth-pop to qualify as a success (the chorus is memorable, though). And 'Too Late' is too much routed in... I don't know, Bryan Adams? Foreigner? Does anyone still like that ugly clucking keyboard sound that had all but replaced electric rhythm guitar back then? Urgh.
The bottomline is: Gaudi is clearly much more inspired and focused than its two predecessors, and, in a better world, would have easily returned the Project to the forefront of the conceptual art world, but ever since technology killed the cat, the Project was way too heavily tainted by the mysteriously ugly world of dancing electrons to be able to make a proper comeback. Of course, in 1987 Gaudi may have still looked like art-rock's cutting edge, but today, its good intentions are embarrassingly dated. Yet I still give it a thumbs up, if only for the rekindled flames, that are at least responsible for the stunning fanfares of 'Sagrada Familia' and the beautiful vocals of 'Inside Looking Out'. Remember, next time you're at the end of your rope, just take a trip to Barcelona — and there's much more to the city than just the Familia.
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