Search This Blog

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Alan Parsons Project: The Sicilian Defence


1) P-K4; 2) P-Qb4; 3) Kt-KB3; 4) ...Kt-QB3; 5) P-Q4; 6) PxP; 7) KtxP; 8) Kt-B3; 9) Kt-QB3; 10) P-Q3.

I am not even sure if this stuff deserves a separate review, but since it now exists as an officially released separate album — albeit only as a «bonus» part of the newly released 11-CD boxset that contains all of the Project's albums — it probably does merit a few words and a chuckle, if only to show that these guys did have their unique brand of «humor», nothing about which was tech­nically funny, but still, it does help to learn about this considering how «stiff» we usually consi­der these Parsons and Woolfson guys.

So, apparently, the story goes that in 1981, the two were locked in a formal battle with Arista over some contract details, and, unsatisfied as they were, decided to get out of the contract by submitting one last due album that they'd record in three days, rather than the several months that it usually took their sense of perfectionism to be pacified. So they went into the studio, quickly threw together a bunch of instrumental tracks made on-the-spot, named them after various chess moves, figuratively called the album The Sicilian Defence (in which Arista people, apparently, played white and the Project played black), and submitted the results.

Said results, as the rumor went, frightened the Arista people so much that they gave up without putting up too much of a fight, renewed Parsons' and Woolfson's contract on profitable terms, and kept Alan with them all the way up to his first solo album. The Sicilian Defence, in the mean­time, was permanently shelved (just as the duo had hoped it would), and vanished off the radar com­pletely for more than thirty years. Small bits and pieces were occasionally showed to the public, but on the whole, Alan had no plans of ever releasing the whole thing, and probably the only rea­son why it finally saw the light of day was acute demand on the part of devoted fans — just the kind of people who'd want to buy the complete boxset in order to get to the juicy bonus.

Now here is why it may be important to add those few words. The album got this reputation for being a «musical joke», or even a display of «musical hooliganry», and I am sure I even saw the word «atonal» used somewhere in a brief description. This may lead one into thinking that Alan and Eric had really let their hair down on this one, making something of a ʽRevolution No. 9ʼ, or of a Metal Machine Music, and since «musical hooliganry» is definitely not the kind of thing with which we are accustomed to associate those stern, glossy British gentlemen, this can create an atmosphere of intrigue — indeed, it might even make one spend all that extra money on the boxset just to hear what all the hoopla was about.

More than likely, you will be seriously disappointed. There is nothing «atonal», or «rebellious», or «hooliganish» about this record. And, in fact, there couldn't be, since it had no gestation period and had to be made in three days. Instead, it sounds more or less just like you'd expect an Alan Parsons Project record, made in three days, to sound. A bunch of instrumental numbers — all of them rhythmic, usually set to simple drum machine patterns, all of them played either on synthe­sizer or on piano, all of them probably largely improvised, but mostly in standard keys, using standard chords, and generating the usual melancholic aura associated with the Project. Nothing particularly exciting — and nothing particularly «Awful» with a large A. Boring, as a matter of fact: just plain old boring.

The two longest tracks, ʽP-Qb4ʼ and ʽKt-QB3ʼ, are piano pieces, of which the former, also known as ʽElsie's Themeʼ, was earlier released in truncated form as a bonus track on Eve, and for good reason: it has the prettiest melody on the album, nocturnal and elegant, that may deserve salvation, even if six minutes is still overkill. ʽKt-QB3ʼ is even longer, mainly consists of one single jazzy theme looped on endless repeat, and could, perhaps, work as a rhythm part for a more elaborate composition, but nothing else.

The rest is basically just Parsons dicking around with synthesizers without much forethought or afterthought — a couple of the tracks sounding like, say, an early underworked demo for Pink Floyd's ʽOn The Runʼ (maybe he did drag out one of these, I have no idea), and others sounding like equally underworked demos for the Project's own stuff, usually with one or two basic mu­sical ideas per track. Nothing revealing in here, except that it might be interesting to hear, very quickly, what kinds of things Parsons could come up with when working on autopilot. Well, it ain't Blonde On Blonde, where composing and recording on-the-spot are concerned, that one thing at least is for sure.

Best thing about it all is we now know what exactly is Alan Parsons' idea of the proverbial «al­bum of fart noises» — apparently, these guys are so stuffy, they cannot even allow themselves to fart anything other than MIDI grooves and piano romances. Yet I cannot officially condemn the album with a thumbs down, since we have all been warned and there has never been one single good word on the part of Alan himself about the record. Clearly, he didn't even release it in order to make an extra buck — most likely, he just wanted to implode the «legend», so that people no longer harass him about the «legendary lost Alan Parsons Project album». So maybe this review can offer a little modest help with this purpose.


  1. Ah, the Classical Defence, when White can choose betweent the Richter-Rauser 11 (6).Bg5, the Sozin 11 (6).Bc4 and the quiet 11 (6).Be2, which can become the Boleslavky, the Scheveningen or the Dragon. Alan Parson though is one of the very few Anglo-Saxons who still uses descriptive notation. The far more common algebraic notation is 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6. Apparently he didn't bother enough to adapt the titles .....

  2. Do consider that descriptive notation was still the rage in the Anglosphere in 1981. Edward Winter only a few years ago bemoaned the horrors inflicted on Bobby's 60 Games when converted to algebraic.
    Also, chess curio: when considering 2 ...d6, both ahead of their time A-listers like Alekhine and Tartakover recommended (and played, the very few times they faced it) the gambit 3. b4. The past is a foreign land, indeed...

  3. Descriptive notation is longer, less useful, and less pleasant to read than algebraic notation. Album-wise there is a hint there, somewhere...

  4. does anybody has a piano sheet of P-Qb4

    1. Please let me know if you find it. ready to buy. thx!