At first glance, Ammonia Avenue had everything going for it – some great songs, a band in its prime, and, oh yeah, that whole riding-the-high-of-Eye-In-The-Sky-topping-the-charts thing. How could Alan Parsons, Eric Woolfson & co. possibly go wrong? The answer: studio interference. Ammonia Avenue was a detour into Arista mandating how the group should sound: since Eric Woolfson’s voice graced past Project hits such as “Eye In The Sky” and “Time”, his voice should grace as many songs as possible on the new album.
Originally recorded as a double album, Ammonia Avenue was pared down to a single album (with the excised tracks eventually seeing release as the Project’s 1984 album Vulture Culture), and on both Ammonia and Vulture, Eric Woolfson’s nearly-operatic, virginal voice is all over songs that just aren’t suited to it. Even Woolfson has admitted that Arista’s directive put his voice on songs that weren’t originally written for himself. It’s great for “Don’t Answer Me”, Ammonia‘s singular bona fide hit, but “Prime Time” and “One Good Reason” could’ve done with a rockier delivery. Lenny Zakatek, returning here for “You Don’t Believe” and “Let Me Go Home”, would have helped either of those songs tremendously, and Chris Rainbow could’ve done either of them proud too. John Miles is conspicuous by his absence here. Lathering up both albums with a thick coating of Woolfson vocals does a disservice to some otherwise fine songs.
The bonus tracks here offer interesting glimpses into the genesis of songs such as “Don’t Answer Me” and “You Don’t Believe” (which appears here in two forms, the second being a twangy, spaghetti-western-plus-synths instrumental that has to be heard to be believed). As usual, the “added value” tracks will really depend upon how much importance the listener places on hearing the musical equivalent of DVD deleted scenes. If there’s a real standout in the bonus tracks, it’s the rhapsodic minute-and-a-half selection of the orchestral overdub session for “Ammonia Avenue” – I think I like the song better in orchestra-only form than as released!
Ammonia Avenue was meant to be a great album, a worthy follow-up to Eye In The Sky, and by all rights it should’ve been. The group didn’t let the side down on the songwriting or instrmental performance fronts. But I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the group’s label hastened the demise of the Project by stepping in and demanding a particular vocalist. The beauty of the previous Project albums was that no two songs were alike, not even in vocal delivery; in “normalizing” the range of voices to favor Woolfson, the label took away a lot of the Project’s uniqueness.
- Prime Time (5:03)
- Let Me Go Home (3:21)
- One Good Reason (3:37)
- Since The Last Goodbye (4:35)
- Don’t Answer Me (4:11)
- Dancing On A Highwire (4:23)
- You Don’t Believe (4:26)
- Pipeline (3:57)
- Ammonia Avenue (6:45)
- Don’t Answer Me (early rough mix) (5:09)
- You Don’t Believe (demo) (2:22)
- Since The Last Goodbye (Chris Rainbow vocal overdubs) (0:30)
- Since The Last Goodbye (Eric’s guide vocal rough mix) (4:25)
- You Don’t Believe (instrumental tribute to The Shadows) (3:08)
- Dancing On A Highwire / Spotlight (work in progress) (3:57)
- Ammonia Avenue (Eric’s demo vocal rough mix) (2:42)
- Ammonia Avenue (orchestral overdub) (1:21)
Released by: Sony / Arista
Release date: 1983 (remastered version released in 2008)
Total running time: 63:52