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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Alan Parsons: Try Anything Once


ALAN PARSONS: TRY ANYTHING ONCE (1993)

1) The Three Of Me; 2) Turn It Up; 3) Wine From The Water; 4) Breakaway; 5) Mr. Time; 6) Jigue; 7) I'm Talkin' To You; 8) Siren Song; 9) Dreamscape; 10) Back Against The Wall; 11) Re-Jigue; 12) Oh Life (There Must Be More).

The Alan Parsons Project, in its classic form of Parsons/Woolfson cooperation, ground to a halt through the creative duo's personal disagreements over Freudiana, their next conceptual install­ment that Woolfson decided, of all things, to turn into a musical. For Parsons, who had been sec­retly lamenting the pop drift of their music ever since Eye In The Sky, this was a bit too much — there are people for whom the very sound of the word «musical» is an insult to taste — and even­tually, it was decided that their artistic philosophies had drifted way too far apart, so it would be more productive to split. Woolfson went on to make musicals, from Freudiana to a reworking of Gaudi and other stuff; and Parsons set out to refresh and recapture the original Idea that brought the Project into existence in the first place.

Woolfson's solo career will be tackled in its own time and space; for now, let us see whether, shorn of its opening article and closing technical Latin borrowing, those «Alan Parsons» records are in any way deserving of a good reputation.

Already the credits list shows Alan's biggest limitations, and why he had to go along with Woolf­son in the first place. He has always been a great arranger, engineer, and producer, and he could even envisage and materialize a serious, classically- or folksy-influenced instrumental composi­tion. But to write an art-pop song, with verses and choruses and lyrics, that must have been a har­der task. Without Woolfson around, he mainly sticks to instrumentals; for songs, his new primary partner is Ian Bairnson, the Project's trusty guitarist and, overall, the third important person res­ponsible for the APP's classic sound.

The results are mixed, but ultimately satisfying. Like most of the Project's albums, this one's not for the younger people; too frequently the sound borders on «intelligent adult contemporary», and keyboards, strings, and ominous pretense win over guitars, good vocals, and complex experimen­tation. But with so many different people around to contribute ideas, this is at least better than post-Waters Pink Floyd (the most obvious comparison, starting with the regular Hipgnosis album cover and ending with the overall depressed atmosphere).

Ironically, no matter how much Alan would like to distance himself from the stark pop overtones of The Project's last period, most of the tunes still end up catchy (if not necessarily «bouncy»), with sing-along choruses (if not neces­sarily commercially calculated ones) and, occasionally, rather pedestrian melodies (if not neces­sarily «dumb»): Bairnson must have tried his best, but he is still no match for Woolfson's melodic gift. Later on, Parsons simply claimed that the album was still influenced by Arista executives, as usual, undermining his artistic drive. (Thank God we always have the bad guys around, or how else would we look like good guys?).

But on the other hand, from the opening notes there is no denying that the «Parsons style» has not been seriously tampered with. 'The Three Of Me' unfurls with a solemn instrumental introduction that has it all: thunderous power chords, pulsating electronic beats, classical piano playing, even unexpected psycho-Eastern string arrangements for a brief moment. The more you listen to it, the stronger Try Anything Once deserves its title: new musical ideas are being introduced constant­ly, and this time, it doesn't even look like Alan bothered to come up with the usual light con­cep­tual wrapper. It's all about trying.

Almost perversely, the best song on the album originally had nothing to do with Parsons. 'Mr. Time' was written around 1990 by the short-lived, little-known band The Dreamfield, fronted by Jacqui Copland, whose credentials consisted of little other than having served as backing vocalist for Duran Duran. Having somehow crossed paths with the band, Parsons got interested in the song and invited Copland to sing it on his own album; a terrific decision — not only does it fit in brilliantly with the overall morose melancholy, it's just an excellent art-pop song. No new insights — there's only so much you can wiggle out of the concept of Time — but a suitably creepy arran­gement for Jacqui's suitably creepy, light-Gothic delivery. (The rowdy ones in the audience may want to dismiss it for sounding too close to post-Waters Floyd, but if at least half of Momentary Lapse Of Reason sounded like this, I would have enjoyed that record much more. Come to think of it, close to a half of it does sound like this, and as the years go by, I find myself more attracted to that solo Gilmour vibe than I ever believed I could be. "Mr. Time has come for you" indeed).

Other than that, we get more of those goofy Parsons instrumentals that feature simplistic melodic hooks dressed in complex, multi-layered arrangements ('Breakaway' has a silly, annoyingly un­for­gettable kiddie sax melody surrounded by a virtual swarm of accompanying sonic effects; 'Ji­gue' sounds like a combination of Clannad, Pink Floyd, and Depeche Mode; 'Dreamscape' is basi­cally just a lush semi-ambient Bairnson guitar solo). We get Manfred Mann's Chris Thompson contributing world-weary vocals on Bairnson's suicidal composition 'Back Against The Wall'; we get 10cc's Eric Stewart singing a very 10cc-ish pop-rocker ('Wine From The Water') that is still catchier than most of the stuff 10cc wrote after 1977; and, of course, nothing works without a grande finale — 'Oh Life', delivered by Ambrosia's David Pack, tries a bit too hard in the pathos department (you can almost feel the fake tears soaking through your speakers), but the power chorus, during which the vocals become less weepy and more hymn-oriented, still manages to be engaging and convincing — Harry Nilsson used to succeed with these kinds of things, so, after all, why can't Alan Parsons?

Since the album never got any heavy promotion (its lead single was 'Turn It Up', a weak adult contemporary number that is not at all indicative of the record), and since individually released albums formed from the disintegration of creative duos tend to be frowned upon, Try Anything Once never got the recognition I believe it deserves; it is certainly a more essential page in Alan's history than any of the Project's post-Ammonia Avenue albums, and a certified grower if one ag­rees to look past the few flaws. After all, Woolfson's contributions to the Project's sound had not been unanimously wonderful — he could be as gorgeous in his pop sensitivity department as he could be trite, and in that respect Try Anything Once does not change a thing: Bairnson can be trite ('Turn It Up') just as fine as he can be exquisite ('Siren Song'). Thumbs up.


Check "Try Anything Once" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Try Anything Once" (MP3) on Amazon

7 comments:

  1. Good review, as always. Good album, if only with a little bit of filler.
    Btw, like that positive "solo Gilmour" revelation from you, George. Credit is given - this guy knows how to touch the melancholic side of me far better than most of the others. Well, at least until 2006 - that last solo record was way too letargic for my tastes. Have no problems with two Dave Floyd studio records however.
    Especially the second one.

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  2. Hey, I only just realized this but apparently theres actually *another* lost APP album, "Freudiana" wasn't the only one that gets overlooked due to it not being "official" Parsons music. There was a side project called Keats who released one self-titled album in the 80s. The line-up was almost entirely of APP regulars: Colin Blunstone, Ian Bairnson, Pete Bardens, David Paton, and Stuart Elliott. Plus production duties by Parsons himself. Apparently Keats was to give the Project musicians their own thing they could do independant from the regular Project albums, but the album bombed and they all went back to business as usual in APP. I've got no idea if the album is any good or not (though judging by the people involved it certainly seems like it would be). I'm going to look around and see if I can find it. Has anybody else heard it?

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  3. Oh hey, I found the "Keats" album and listened to it. It's about as good as I expected. Sounds like your average APP record with perhaps a smidgen more 80s genericism. But there's nothing wrong with that as long as the songs are good, and they are of course. So I recommend it!

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  4. Funny. You write: most of the Project's albums are not for the younger people. When I was 19 or 20 or something friend introduced me to all APP's albums from Tales to Eye in the Sky. As I liked quite a few songs I taped my own compilation. Note that I already was highly interested in classical music as well.
    From my 25th on I lost all interest in APP, mainly because of the lack of emotional expression. There are many, many better composers to sooth my melancholy. Now being over 45 I hardly can remember a single melody of the band, with the exception of Turn of a friendly Card. Once I listened back my old compilation and found them a complete bore.
    But don't take me seriously. I am more or less a fan of UH (loved your old reviews; would love it even more to comment on them, so why don't you move them to here?) and certainly of Ustvolskaya.

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  5. Am I the only one who doesn't like these Hipgnosis covers much at all?
    Never mind. This album certainly is a relief after the last three, even if it definitely fails to excite me like all the Big Seven did. I guess my biggest problem is really with the sound of it all. Sure it's better than 'Stereotomy' but really, what is a producer of Parsons' stature doing with the kind of drum and guitar sounds found here? Remember how the guitar sounded on 'I Robot'? Man that was a juicy tone, and totally commcerial anyway. I realise people like Parsons feel it's their duty to change with the times, but...ah well, boring predictable rant incoming.

    Quick question you can refuse to answer: For relatively big Project fans who still have a place for Motörhead in their hearts, is Eric Woolfson's solo career at all worth investigating?

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  6. Re: Anton
    Freudiana is worth checking out for sure. I can't speak for the others though.

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  7. Yes, I agree it's the best from Parsons since "Ammonia Avenue". The absence of Woolfson is noteable in the songwriting department, of course. In terms of sound and production, however, Parsons has a new lease on life. The nasty 80's influences from "VC" onwards have been banished. Superb arrangments from Andrew Powell. The obligatory instrumentals are fine. As for the songs, none of these were about to become hit singles in 1990, but I don't think there's a bad one here. "Oh Life" may be my favorite -- I'm also sucked in by the hopefulness-coming-out-of-despair thing. Unlike later albums, though, most of these tunes (with the exception of "The Three of Me", maybe) stick with the listener after the record's done. Anyone who gave up on the Project in the 80's should get this one if you want your faith in Parsons renewed.

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