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.
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