White Noise – An Electric Storm

White Noise - An Electric StormAn Electric Storm is the adventurous debut album by a British outfit called White Noise. Even if the group is new to you, its members are familiar names: White Noise was a collaboration between electronic musician David Vorhaus and BBC Radiophonic Workshop members Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire, doing a little bit of work on the side. Originally, White Noise set out to record a single only: two songs. Island Records insisted on an entire album of material… and unfortunately, that’s where it started to go downhill, rapidly.

An Electric Storm starts out promisingly enough, putting the two most interesting numbers up front. “Love Without Sound” and “My Game Of Loving” were the A and B sides of the originally planned single, showing off the concept behind White Noise very well: to apply the working methods of the Radiophonic Workshop to something that was intended, from the outset, to be a pop song or two. Even these two songs aren’t without issues, however. “Love Without Sound” has a fantastic, mysterious feel, with vocals that anticipate the singing style of the new wave and new romantic genres by a good ten years, and “My Game Of Loving” isn’t bad either, with almost Brian-Wilson-esque vocals.

But both songs become novelty tunes with the addition of intrusive laughter on the former and orgasmic moaning on the latter. The “instrumental” backgrounds – and I used that term loosely since, as with Derbyshire’s famous version of the Doctor Who theme, few traditional instruments were used – are intriguing. Any album with Derbyshire and Hodgson involved would have been spectacularly well-produced at the very least.

Though I’m not as fond of the music, this leaves the relatively uncluttered “Firebird” and “Your Hidden Dreams” as the gems of this album. “Here Come The Fleas” takes things firmly into novelty song territory.

The last two tracks on An Electric Storm are wanna-be epics that wind up weighing the whole endeavour down. “The Visitations” clocks in at over ten minutes, and few of those minutes stand out as interesting music, while “The Black Mass: An Electric Storm In Hell” is a noise montage with track after track of overdubbed screams, resulting in a piece that, quite frankly, I’d be happy never to hear again. Legend has it that the trio cranked out the two longest tracks in the shortest amount of studio time simply to fulfill Island’s demands for a full album. An Electric Storm in hell, indeed: it’s almost as if the group made a deal with the devil and was in a hurry to get out of it.

To be blunt, An Electric Storm is really the A and B sides of two decent, if trippy, singles, and a further collection of filler material that’s not worth the time (and keep in mind, very few times in’s Music Reviews has it ever been said that anything’s not worth at least one listen for curiosity’s sake). There would’ve been no honor lost in just doing a four-song EP – and my opinion of this collection minus the three filler songs would’ve been 2 out of 4raised considerably. White Noise actually continues to this day, having released an album each decade since An Electric Storm, though most of the “group”‘s output since this album has been Vorhaus on his own; Derbyshire and Hodgson went their own way following this album. It’s a pioneering piece of electronic pop music, but the artistic achievement isn’t quite on par with the technical prowess on display.

Order this CD

  1. Love Without Sound (3:07)
  2. My Game Of Loving (4:10)
  3. Here Come The Fleas (2:15)
  4. Firebird (3:05)
  5. Your Hidden Dreams (4:58)
  6. The Visitations (11:14)
  7. The Black Mass: An Electric Storm In Hell (7:22)

Released by: Island Records
Release date: 1969
Total running time: 36:11

Eric Woolfson Sings The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was

Eric Woolfson Sings The Alan Parsons Project That Never WasLet’s start out by pointing out one thing: the title of this album is a complete misnomer. There are, indeed, at least a couple of songs that were pitched as potential Alan Parsons Project numbers, but the bulk of Eric Woolfson Sings The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was is taken up by songs that were intended, from the start, to feature in Woolfson’s post-Project stage musicals. There’s nothing wrong with that – I’ve tried to follow Woolfson’s music as well as Parsons’ – but it just seems that this album’s title is more than just a little bit misleading. Perhaps it should be Eric Woolfson Boosts Sales By Mentioning His Past Association With The Alan Parsons Project.

In a way, the album serves as a Woolfson “best of” collection, drawing from his numerous musical productions. The pieces heard here are not sung by the cast, however: these are demos or fresh recordings of the songs, arranged and sung by Woolfson himself. There are no repeats of known Project material here; if you’re new to Woolfson’s musicals, this material will be new to you. The only pieces I recognized were a couple of songs from his Poe concept album (which was more or less a commercially-released demo to prove the viability of the concept of a musical based on the life of Edgar Allan Poe), but they appear here in very different forms.

Listeners who soaked up the series of remastered Project albums will find two familiar pieces of music here: Rumour Going Round, previously presented as a mostly-instrumental backing track with a very incomplete rough vocal, is fleshed out with full vocals here (though the very 1985 backing track makes it a bit of a novelty by default). And if fans need a further stamp of Parsons Project authenticity, longtime Project guitarist Ian Bairnson lays down some brand new riffs on “Any Other Day”, the album’s only other bona fide Project song that never was.

But there’s plenty more for Woolfson’s longtime fans to enjoy. “Golden Key”, the lead track, bears more than a passing resemblance to 1983’s minor Project hit “Don’t Answer Me”. One of the best songs on the album, “I Can See Round Corners”, is an ethereal song with some haunting multitracked harmonies. “Nothing Can Change My Mind”, heard originally on Poe, is perfectly suited to Woolfson’s vocal range and his unique delivery. One of the most intriguing demos is a rootsier, raw rock version of Poe‘s “Train To Freedom”, here titled “Train To Wuxi” (after the Chinese tin-mining city Woolfson was visiting when he wrote the song); not only does the song have an unusually stripped-down sound, but Woolfson himself plays a decent guitar riff throughout.

The title may be a bit of a misdirection, but the music here is still solid. I’d really like to hear Woolfson cook up another album like Poe, but along the lines of classic Project concept albums 3 out of 4like I Robot and The Turn Of A Friendly Card. With this album, he’s demonstrated that he has musical colleagues he can call upon to instrumentally make up for the other half of the Project. It may never be the production piece that it would be with Parsons aboard, but I’d like to hear some more original music from Woolfson. This album shows he could do it.

Order this CD

  1. Golden Key (4:12)
  2. Nothing Can Change My Mind (4:00)
  3. Rumour Goin’ Round (4:39)
  4. Any Other Day (3:08)
  5. I Can See Round Corners (5:15)
  6. Steal Your Heart Away (3:20)
  7. Along The Road Together (3:21)
  8. Somewhere In The Audience (4:36)
  9. Train To Wuxi (4:19)
  10. Immortal (6:02)

Released by: Limelight Records
Release date: 2009
Total running time:

Eric Woolfson’s Poe: More Tales Of Mystery & Imagination

Eric Woolfson's Poe: More Tales Of Mystery & ImaginationAs most fans of the Alan Parsons Project know, Project co-founder, songwriter and later vocalist Eric Woolfson split from Parsons after the two collaborated one last time on 1990’s Freudiana, an album Parsons produced as a Project concept album but which Woolfson treated as the concept album for a stage musical, the direction he ultimately decided to pursue full-time. Woolfson went on to create several musicals that went down well in Europe, often mining his own Project material for many of the songs. So many fans were surprised to see this 2003 release, boasting an entirely new album of material written by Woolfson which promised to revisit the subject of the very first Project album: Edgar Allan Poe.

But was Woolfson doing a straight-ahead rock album, or auditioning material for a future musical here? Freudiana proved that one can do both at the same time, but now that we’re about halfway through the Project remaster series, with its early-draft bonus tracks, it’s pretty safe to say that Freudiana – and indeed several Project albums – turned out so well because of the checks and balances that existed in the Woolfson-Parsons partnership, with Parsons reeling in some of Woolfson’s music-hall excesses from time to time. Woolfson on his own, however, doesn’t have that somewhat steadying influence, and the result is this somewhat schizophrenic album.

Parts of Poe are trying hard to be a great rock concept album; in classic Project style, the album starts with an instrumental and then segues into “Wings Of Eagles”, an orchestral rock anthem that thunders along under the sheer power of vocalist Steve Balsamo’s vocals. Balsamo does the vocal duties on much of the album, and his range is mindblowing – he can go from operatic to a throat-thrashing raw rock style that just about reminds me of frequent-flyer Project vocalist Lenny Zakatek. The next song, “Train To Freedom”, is a fantastic piece of music that I’m not sure ever would’ve flown with Parsons in the studio, borrowing from the style of black southern gospel music. Balsamo returns for the ballad “Somewhere In The Audience”.

Next up is a musical rendition of “The Bells”, performed by a mixed choir called the Metro Voices, and it’s really one of the weak points of the album. I will admit to a bias here – I’m quite familiar with Poe’s written works, and “The Bells” simply isn’t among my favorites. Translating it into a stagey musical format doesn’t improve that – it just sounds a bit silly. After “The Bells”, the three-part mini-rock-opera “The Pit And The Pendulum” is a refreshing course correction, with Balsamo back at center stage in what may well be the most Project-esque song on the entire album.

Woolfson then steers things back toward a stage musical direction with “The Murders In The Rue Morgue”, which seems to be trying hard to emulate Freudiana‘s “It’s Funny You Should Say That”, complete with silly character voices; I’ve listened to this album about half a dozen times as of this writing, and I’ll confess to having skipped this track on all but two of those listens. Balsamo returns for another ballad, “Tiny Star”, followed by another choral number, “Goodbye To All That” (which isn’t all that, bogged down again by Woolfson’s stagey sensibilities).

The final song on the album is a bit of a shocker, opening with Orson Welles’ narration recorded for the original 1976 Alan Parsons Project debut album Tales Of Mystery & Imagination (but not used as part of the album until the revised 1987 CD edition), and becoming a rather intense power ballad showcasing Balsamo’s impressive vocal range. The song itself ponders the nature of immortality, and whether or not Poe unwittingly achieved it through his work.

3 out of 4More Tales would be a fantastic album, except for the 25% of it that succumbs to Woolfson’s stage musical excesses. While he pulls off a couple of things here that I don’t think we would’ve been treated to if Parsons had been involved in this album (namely “Train To Freedom”), More Tales isn’t on a par with, say, Freudiana. Freudiana‘s stagier pieces at least worked within the context of the album, while their counterparts on More Tales completely interrupt any musical flow that the album might have. On the plus side, we get Steve Balsamo’s simply amazing performances and some fairly decent songs out of the deal. It’s no Alan Parsons Project album, sure, and while it’s probably not fair to expect anything even approaching one, it’s also inevitable that the comparison will be made.

Order this CD

  1. Angel Of The Odd (2:36)
  2. Wings Of Eagles (4:45)
  3. Train To Freedom (4:40)
  4. Somewhere In The Audience (4:47)
  5. The Bells (5:32)
  6. The Pit And The Pendulum – Part I (2:31)
  7. The Pit And The Pendulum – Part II (2:02)
  8. The Pit And The Pendulum – Part III (2:02)
  9. The Murders In The Rue Morgue (4:35)
  10. Tiny Star (2:44)
  11. Goodbye To All That (5:15)
  12. Immortal (5:30)

Released by: Sony
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 46:59