Alan Parsons Project – Tales Of Mystery And Imagination

The very first album by the team of Alan Parsons, Eric Woolfson and their various and sundry cohorts, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe – the album – was originally intended to be known as The Alan Parsons Project. It was only when radio DJs needed an artist/band name to latch onto, and a second album was in the works, that the Project became the name of this new musical entity. One gets the impression, though, that for those involved, Tales remains the favorite project, despite the wider success of later Project albums like I Robot and Eye In The Sky. With no studio pressure to highlight a specific vocalist even if their voice wasn’t right for the song, with no precedent or road map for what they were doing, there was no real boundary for Parsons and Woolfson to adhere to while making Tales. Their first album may well remain the best expression of what the two were trying to do. Part prog rock, part film-score-for-a-movie-that-never-was, there hasn’t been anything like Tales since.

The 1987 disc, which had already been digitally remastered 20 years ago, doesn’t seem to be noticeably remastered any further except to make it louder. (A tangent here: I sometimes wonder if cranking up the audio level and risking signal-flattening compression isn’t the real essence of a lot of modern-day “remastering”. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case here, but it’s something I wonder about.) Everything still sounds good.

The first bonus track is a series of excerpts from the album’s vocal songs featuring guide vocal tracks by Eric Woolfson. Recorded to give the songs’ actual guest vocalists an idea of how to approach a given song, what these guide vocals may demonstrate most effectively is that Woolfson doesn’t have a voice for every occasion; “(The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” just aren’t for his voice. “The Cask Of Amontillado” and “To One In Paradise” fare better with Woolfson vocals, but ultimately other people sang them on the finished recordings, and sang them better. Also interesting is how closely the backing tracks resemble the final recordings – there are only minor differences.

The complete reel of Orson Welles’ spoken-word introductions, interstitial pieces (not all of which were used) and the copy for the radio spots advertising Tales is included, and it’s an interesting listen. There just aren’t too many voices like Welles’ anymore, and the finished radio spot is included in its full glory on the 1976 disc. To the ears of the iPod generation, phrases like “a record album that will live in your memory forever” are either meaningless or ironically humorous; to the ears of someone like me who actually bought this album on vinyl once long ago, it brings a bit of a sad smile.

Even further afield than the radio spot is a section of sound effects, placed within the context of one movement of “The Fall Of The House Of Usher”, which has the listener walk through a sinister creaky door…and into a busy airport terminal full of sea lions and sheep. The liner notes are pretty clear that this was never meant for prime time, but was assembled by the producers for their own amusement at the time.

The first disc wraps with “GBH Mix: Unreleased Experiments”, revealing bits and pieces of what I suspect are several abandoned songs, including one that would’ve set “The Murders In The Rue Morgue” to music. There’s an incredible disparity between the handful of musical ideas here, and while the liner notes claim that the ragtime-esque portion that opens this track was a step on the road to “Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether”, I’m just not hearing it. Very strange stuff.

The 1976 disc presents Tales as it was originally released in 1976, minus the Orson Welles narrations and the various retouches and remixes done for the 1987 remastered edition. Again, this edition of Tales had already been remastered and re-released (by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, no less, in a limited edition that became a top-dollar collectible like many of MFSL’s re-releases), so it sounds as good as the more recent version.

The first bonus track accompanying the 1976 album is an early, early, early demo of “The Raven”, lacking fully formed lyrics or just about any of the production signatures that would come to be sonically associated with the Project – primarily because the demo pre-dates Parsons’ involvement. About 5/6 of the melody of “The Raven” as finally released is there, but the lyrics are barely recognizable, a bit ranting, and aren’t helped by Woolfson’s strained attempt at hard-biting rock vocals.

The next unreleased track, an Eric Woolfson demo called “Edgar”, is something that the record company strongly urged (i.e., in no uncertain terms) Woolfson to leave off the album, and for once, the suits were right on the money here. While the rest of Tales is derived from Poe’s actual works, “Edgar” would’ve been a piece of conceptual cotton candy amidst the Grand Guignol, something better suited to Woolfson’s stage musical work than to this album. It’s hard for me to really explain why this song doesn’t work, except to say this: instead of being based on one of Poe’s works, “Edgar” is obviously about Poe, and as such it does the musical equivalent of breaking the fourth wall. It’s so lightweight and fluffy that it would’ve been at odds with virtually the entire rest of the album. It’s interesting to hear it as a kind of deleted scene, but yeah, this had no place on this album.

Bringing things to a close is a vintage interview, dating back to Tales‘ original release, with Parsons and Woolfson, discussing – among other things – who came up with the idea of a Poe-centric album, how many musicians (and therefore how much money) were involved. File this one under “interesting time capsule” along with the Orson Welles voice-overs.

4 out of 4With the silly-going-on-insane prices commanded by the Mobile Fidelity re-release of the original Tales, this 2-CD set is easily worth the price of admission to hear both versions of the album, and the selection of bonus material is enlightening. As much as I admire Eric Woolfson’s songwriting chops, “Edgar” and some of “GBH Mix”‘s more bizarre segments make it very clear that Woolfson needed someone to help organize his sonic ideas and restrain some of his more frivolous music hall moments that might’ve been fine on stage but would’ve sabotaged a progressive rock album. Perhaps more than any of the other remasters, Tales makes it clear why we now know this musical entity as the Alan Parsons Project.

Order this CD

    1987 Version

  1. A Dream Within A Dream (4:13)
  2. The Raven (3:57)
  3. The Tell-Tale Heart (4:39)
  4. The Cask Of Amontillado (4:33)
  5. (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether (4:21)
    The Fall Of The House Of Usher
  6. I. Prelude (7:01)
  7. II. Arrival (2:39)
  8. III. Intermezzo (0:59)
  9. IV. Pavane (4:36)
  10. V. Fall (0:51)
  11. To One In Paradise (4:54)
  12. Eric’s Guide Vocal Medley (9:14)
  13. Orson Welles Dialogue (3:08)
  14. Sea Lions In The Departure Lounge: Sound Effects And Experiments (2:38)
  15. GBH Mix: Unreleased Experiments (5:22)
    1976 Version

  1. A Dream Within A Dream (3:41)
  2. The Raven (3:58)
  3. The Tell-Tale Heart (4:42)
  4. The Cask Of Amontillado (4:28)
  5. (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether (4:19)
    The Fall Of The House Of Usher
  6. I. Prelude (5:52)
  7. II. Arrival (2:41)
  8. III. Intermezzo (1:03)
  9. IV. Pavane (4:34)
  10. V. Fall (0:52)
  11. To One In Paradise (4:40)
  12. The Raven (Original Demo) (3:27)
  13. Edgar (Demo Of An Unreleased Track) (3:04)
  14. Orson Welles Radio Spot (1:03)
  15. Interview With Alan Parsons And Eric Woolfson (1976) (8:33)

Released by: Island
Release date: 2007
1987 disc total running time: 63:05
1976 disc total running time: 56:57