ALAN PARSONS: THE TIME MACHINE (1999)
1) The Time Machine (part 1); 2) Temporalia; 3) Out Of The Blue; 4) Call Up; 5) Ignorance Is Bliss; 6) Rubber Universe; 7) The Call Of The Wild; 8) No Future In The Past; 9) Press Rewind; 10) The Very Last Time; 11) Far Ago And Long Away; 12) The Time Machine (part 2).
This just might be the single least having-to-do-with-the-artist album by (nominally) a solo artist ever released. Parsons' only songwriting credit here must have been an intentional joke, or a trick to get him at least some royalties: 'Temporalia' is fifty seven-seconds of quiet background choral harmonies over which particle physics expert Frank Close is talking about how space itself functions as a time machine. For some reason, Prof. Close is given no credits, though.
Other than that, The Time Machine is simply more of the Ian Bairnson Project, with Ian occasionally relegating songwriting duties on percussionist Steve Elliott. It is not hopeless, and has its own moody charms, but it shares all the flaws of On Air and adds one more: Bairnson, Elliott, and Parsons (who still engineers and produces as good as he can) start toying with the world of techno, which is completely alien to the classic spirit of APP. The title track is a cheesy disaster. 'Blue Blue Sky' might have been a disappointing, badly uncommon start to a Parsons album, but 'The Time Machine' is just stupid. They should have slowed it down, set it to a normal beat, and put more thought into the layers of instrumentation. What were they trying to do — come up with a super hot club hit for the young ones?
The conceptual framework here is as sturdy as the one that framed On Air — and just as simple, or, perhaps, simplistic: Woolfson's concepts always deviated much further from the main theme, but that was an essential part of their charm, and occasional depth. With The Time Machine, we learn various truisms about the past, present, and future. The past, you might be surprised to learn, is riddled with mistakes ('No Future In The Past'), but it used to be much cooler than today anyway ('Ignorance Is Bliss'), so it would be nice to have all the greats come round and help us see the light ('Call Up'; I like how they namedrop Jesus and Darwin in the same song — aren't matter and antimatter supposed to cancel out each other?) so we could all live for a better and brighter future ('Call Of The Wild'), etc. etc.
Still, once you weed out the silly techno elements (and they never really go beyond the title track — it took Parsons five more years to embarrass himself without any hope of deliverance), the songs mostly range from tolerable to pretty. For one thing, the band does good to bring in girl power. Clannad's Máire Brennan is always a joy to experience when she is not prostituted over cheap faux-Celtic synth-pop, and 'The Call Of The Wild' is but an art-pop rearrangement of a traditional Irish ballad that puts her skills to great use. Beverley Craven is said to be «Kate Bush lite» for those unprepared to assimilate the real thing; I have not heard any of her records, but Bairnson's 'The Very Last Time' is a nice enough piano ballad that fits the definition to a tee — this is something that Kate could have easily written at the tender age of, say, twelve years.
For another thing, Elliott's 'Press Rewind', sung by unknown vocalist Graham Dye of unknown band Scarlet Party, is a damn good Brit-pop song — if you like, uh, Oasis, you'll probably like this as well, even without the fat distorted guitars. So is Bairnson's 'Out Of The Blue', riding one of those immediately recognizable Project guitar lines and sung by the lead vocalist of Spandau Ballet, which begs the question — how come Parsons didn't start using the vocal magic of New Romantics back in the days when those guys were still New?
But in general, of course, The Time Machine is nothing to write home about, not even from a time machine, provided you were gullible enough to bring it along for the soundtrack. It tries to be truer to the spirit of the Project, with more echo, somber chords, and mystical pretense than we last heard On Air, yet the triteness of the concept, the mediocrity of the songwriting, and the failure to come up with respectable instrumentals makes it another missed opportunity. Perhaps they should have just called it a day and all joined Clannad instead.
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