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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Alan Parsons: A Valid Path


1) Return To Tunguska; 2) More Lost Without You; 3) Mammagamma 04; 4) We Play The Game; 5) Tijuaniac; 6) L'Arc En Ciel; 7) A Recurring Dream Within A Dream; 8) You Can Run; 9) Chomolungma.

Part of me wishes there had been a proper question mark at the end of that title, because I am not at all sure of the actual validity of this path. Of course, there is nothing particularly good about stagnation, and in theory it is commendable that, at the age of 56 and almost thirty years into his artistic career, Alan has undertaken the starkest revisions to the basic conception of his sound sin­ce... well, ever. His entire old team — Bairnson, Elliott, Blunstone, etc. — is gone, replaced by a host of younger generation representatives, mostly various electronic artists working in similar, but different genres. He co-writes, once again, all the songs, some of them with his son Jeremy. Good news, right?

Both yes and no. There is always a mixed reaction when the old start taking lessons from the young. It certainly indicates humility and open-mindedness, but it does not always make for great art. Case in point: the two completely unnecessary and, in part, offensive remakes of past succes­ses. 'Mammagamma '04' is a techno/trance avatar of the track from Eye In The Sky, which was never one of the Project's better instrumentals in the first place — way too relying on one single gimmick throughout — and now it makes for half-decent club fodder, but at the expense of ha­ving the last vestiges of «art» surgically removed from it. 'A Recurring Dream' is, in fact, an elec­tronic remix / recreation of 'The Raven' that, at best, functions as a curious modern age deconst­ruction of the original, at worst, just makes one laugh out loud, especially when the synthesized vocals start rolling in. What's the point — other than showing how hip you are to all the new tech­nological breakthroughs?

It is certainly a treat for old fans to see Parsons make such a bold move away from the basic pop of his last ten or so records: there are but two or three pure pop songs on the album altogether, stuck as short breathers in between the lengthy instrumental numbers, and the instrumental num­bers (the ones that are not 'Mammagamma', of course) are true art-rock compositions with plenty of complexity and development. But are the employed electronic devices and textures really an asset here, or an obstruction?

Personally, I do not get the feeling that this forced breeding of Parsons' idealistic mystique and his new electronic partners' dryer, sci-fi-er approach is all that good. Apples to apples, oranges to oranges. The man brings in old friend Dave Gilmour to solo extensively on the opening 'Return To Tunguska', but the chugging synths and robotic percussion detract from his contributions ra­ther than happily complement them. Most of the time I catch myself thinking, «wow, nice moody bit from Alan, the good old kind», or «hmm, I wonder if I'd be interested in checking out those electronic guys' own records... nah, never mind, it's not like I've got nothing better to do». But ve­ry rarely, if ever, at the same time.

Of the vocal numbers, 'More Lost Without You' is the more memorable one, sounding sus­pi­ci­ous­ly like some corny old Manfred Mann folk-pop thing stuck in a time warp only to re­emerge in this modernized P. J. Olsson-sung setting. (Predictably, it was the only song to be sung live on the accompanying tour — the rest just wouldn't fit in at all with the classic hits). Parsons does sing lead vocals himself — first time ever! — on 'We Play The Game', displaying a voice that is alarmingly close to Woolfson's but not making much of an impact since the song sucks anyway.

Were I to review this years ago, I'd probably just pour sincere shit over all these tracks, singling out 'Mammagamma '04' as the single stinkiest crapfest Parsons ever had me subjected to, and be done with it. Today, I am almost ready to accept this as a bold and honest artistic move. But, to tell the truth, as of 2004, or as of 2010 when I am writing this, I don't want any bold and artistic moves in this corner of the art-rock market. I wouldn't mind getting another Alan Parsons Project album, particularly since Alan Par­sons is still around and kicking (alas, not Eric Woolfson, who died of cancer in 2009). I don't even mind young electronica guys coming in the studio and lend­ing a hand, provided they're qualified. But nobody fucks with the Raven ­— understood? Thumbs down, and that's final.

Check "A Valid Path" (CD) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. I do happen to like the rather cheeky title. Alan's effectively saying (in a much more polite, British way( what Paul Kantner once said: "Fuck you, [I] do wait [I] want!"

    While he dabbled in this before on stuff like “The Time Machine” and “Apollo”, here Alan goes full force. I think that your review is a bit harsh. The name “Alan Parsons” has a lot of baggage associated with it. In order to have a fair assessment, all of that has to be let go so that it can be assessed not as a Parsons album, per se, but as an electronica album.
    Not that I can do that 100% well, either. I’ve only dipped my toe in the water a little bit, mainly because a LOT of it makes me feel like I should be hanging out in a gay bar. (I do like Moodswings’ Moodfood quite a bit, but I only bought it because Chrissie Hynde sings, all of things, Jon Anderson/Vangelis’s “State of Independence” on it!) One of the major differences here is that Alan put much more emphasis on the low frequency end of things than a lot of these electro-people do. The synth/bass drums are relatively heavy, which make these songs almost, well, rock out.
    Most of it is rather same-ish, of course. “Tijuaniac” is a slow moody piece, but the majority is dancey/trancey kind of stuff. They do get the blood pumping. I don’t get why you single out “Mammagamma” for special abuse, since it doesn’t sound all that different from anything else. What I don’t understand is why Alan & Co. decided that overdubbing distorted vocals was necessary for the lengthier pieces – the chanting on “Return to Tunguska”; the endless repetition of the title “Chomolungma”; the obnoxious “robot baby” voice on “Mammagamma”. As for “The Raven”, I agree that remaking it here was a big mistake. While Parsons did send his voice through a vocoder on the original, the band, orchestra and the “real” vocals keep the song on the human plane. Here, Orson Welles’ voice sounds utterly out of place when it’s backed by chugging sequencers. And while having an electronically processed voice croaking “Nevermore” in an attempt to sound like an actual raven might have seemed like a good idea on paper, in execution it sounds pretty stupid.
    “More Lost Without You” is indeed the anomaly, because it’s such a throwback – but not to Alan’s previous work. This song sounds like it was a cover of a late 60’s pop song on its way to R.E.M.’s Monster when it fell into a wormhole and ended up here by mistake! It’s really catchy, though, and the obvious single.
    So, overall, I do like it, but it doesn’t want me to check out albums by The Crystal Method, either. It seems this “valid path” only led to a dead end, since Alan hasn’t made a studio album since.