Alan Parsons – The Secret

It used to be, in the 1970s and ’80s, that you could almost keep time by the release of Alan Parsons Project albums, with a new one arriving every year or every other year. Albums started to arrive more sparsely in the late ’80s, with members of the core group exploring side projects (Keats, Andrew Powell scoring Ladyhawke) and, finally, the album that broke the Project apart, Freudiana (which was released not as a Project album, but as the studio concept album for a stage musical). The seemingly hectic pace was made somewhat easier because the Project didn’t play live, though Parsons assembled a touring band (which wasn’t always made up of the same players he had in the studio) to begin touring in the 1990s. The two-or-three-year gaps between albums made more sense then, and the live show was every bit as good as you’d expect it to be given how artfully Parsons crafted the studio sound that went out under his name. And then, after 2004’s A Valid Path…nothing. A single came out alongside Parsons’ Art And Science Of Sound Recording DVD, and then a couple more singles. It was somewhere in there that I read an interview in which Parsons declared the album, and especially the concept album in which he had specialized, dead in the age of iTunes downloads. I really didn’t expect to hear anything more from him after that. He had moved on to teaching the next generation of studio wizards and no longer seemed to be in the business of making and releasing his own music.

And that’s a big part of what made the announcement that The Secret was forthcoming such a shock, 15 years after A Valid Path saw him dabbling in electronica. Not just that, but The Secret was going to be precisely the kind of concept album that the singles-centric iTunes ecosystem had rendered obsolete. And what’s more, it’s an amazingly good concept album – though all of the “stage magic” imagery may be obfuscating what that theme really is.

Hewing to long-standing Alan Parsons Project tradition, the album has a lengthy instrumental opener, with Steve Hackett shredding “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” with an orchestral backing. From there, things get more traditional – “Miracle” is a throwback to the Project of old, with “As Lights Fall” returning to the same mid-tempo musical ground that had proven so effective for songs like “Eye In The Sky”, but it’s in “As Lights Fall” that Parsons – actually doing lead vocals for once – peels back the curtain on what the album’s really about: the imminence of mortality, and the notion that each individual life is really the greatest magic trick of all.

This concept – dressing itself up in allusions to stage magic before revealing the real underlying theme – recurs in “Soirée Fantastique”, “Requiem”, “Years Of Glory”, and “The Limelight Fades Away”. Mortality and the miracle of life itself is the real concept of this concept album – even “Soirée Fantastique” includes the lyric “all the illusions fall away”. So do the allusions: for all of the lyrical nods to performing magic tricks, in the end it acknowledges that mortality is the ultimate disappearing act. With songs like “As Lights Fall” adding an autobiographical dimension, I almost want to call Parsons up and ask, “hey, buddy, is there something you’re not telling us? I’m kinda worried now.” (Parsons is 71 at the time I write this, though he certainly doesn’t sound 71, so yeah, I get it, life and death and legacy are a real concern.)

High points of the album include the return of Foreigner crooner Lou Gramm’s powerful voice on “Sometimes”, the almost Cabaret-esque, burlesque-act-worthy “Requiem”, and my personal favorite, “One Note Symphony”, a song about the Schumann Resonance whose lead vocal is sung in a perfect monotone, while the harmonies woven around it make the song. I could pick nits about the lyrics leaning into some of the more “woo” new-age connotations of the Schumann Resonance (especially at a time when scientific literacy among the public seems to be plummeting more with each passing day at the worst possible time), but it’s a fun listen regardless.

4 out of 4The Secret may be the best album has turned out since the Project’s heyday, and it really does sit alongside the best of the Project’s output in the quality of both the songwriting and the performance and production of the songs, and the degree to which the songs and the underlying theme of the album have been thought out. At numerous points during this album, I found myself thinking that the late Eric Woolfson (composer and theme architect of the Project’s original string of concept albums) would have wholeheartedly approved of The Secret. It’s worthy of sitting alongside Eye In The Sky and I Robot.

Order this CD

  1. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (5:44)
  2. Miracle (3:22)
  3. As Lights Fall (3:58)
  4. One Note Symphony (4:43)
  5. Sometimes (5:08)
  6. Soirée Fantastique (5:27)
  7. Fly To Me (3:45)
  8. Requiem (4:02)
  9. Years Of Glory (4:05)
  10. The Limelight Fades Away (3:36)
  11. I Can’t Get There From Here (4:38)

Released by: Frontiers SRL
Release date: April 26, 2019
Total running time: 48:28

[…]

Ladyhawke (newly expanded edition)

Ladyhawke (newly expanded edition)Either an awkward or awesome fit for its movie, depending upon whom one asks, 1984’s Ladyhawke veered away from the usual (indeed, almost stereotypical) Korngold-inspired heraldry expected of swords-and-sorcery films and, courtesy of composer Andrew Powell and his producer/collaborator Alan Parsons (of Alan Parsons Project fame), dared to score a period piece with synthesizers and rock music.

The result is practically a lost Project album in style and execution, and not a bad one at that. La-La Land Records expands the Ladyhawke score (last issued in the 1990s by GNP Crescendo) to two discs, including every note of the score, plus goodies such as demos, unused cues, and bite-sized edits of the movie’s music intended for radio advertising. If you already like the score, this release will delight you: there’s more where it came from, including fascinating alternate cues. If you didn’t like the score to begin with, steer clear: nothing here is likely to change your mind about it unless you’re prepared to go in with an open mind and open ears.

3 out of 4The packaging is a huge improvement on the almost-generic presentation of the 1990s release, with liner notes including interviews with Powell, Parsons, and director Richard Donner. This 2-CD set balances out the synth-heavy Crescendo single CD release by revealing that Powell prepared as much “traditional” material as he did anachronistic material; it’s still a fun listen.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. Main Title (03:02)
  2. Phillipe’s Escape From Dungeon (01:51)
  3. Phillipe’s Escape Through Sewer (01:43)
  4. The Search For Philippe (03:27)
  5. Navarre At Sunset (00:22)
  6. Tavern Fight (Philippe)
  7. (02:10)

  8. Tavern Fight (Navarre)
  9. (02:43)

  10. Navarre’s Saddlebag (00:37)
  11. Navarre Dreams Of Isabeau (00:56)
  12. Pitou’s Woods (04:07)
  13. Marquet’s Return To Aquila Part 1 (01:01)
  14. Philippe Describes Isabeau (01:14)
  15. Marquet’s Return To Aqula Part 2 (01:17)
  16. Bishop’s Garden (00:45)
  17. Navarre Has Returned (00:27)
  18. Monk’s Chant In Bishop’s Garden (01:58)
  19. Isabeau Chases A Rabbit (00:25)
  20. Navarre’s Sunset / Philippe’s Capture (00:36)
  21. Navarre Is Ambushed / Hawk Injured (04:55)
  22. Philippe And Imperius Enter Abbey (01:18)
  23. Philippe Discovers Isabeau’s Secret (01:28)
  24. Imperius Removes Arrow From Isabeau (01:37)
  25. The Bishop Interviews Cezar (01:33)
  26. “You Must Save This Hawk” (01:07)
  27. Chase Up The Turret / Isabeau’s Fall Part 2 (02:49)
  28. Isabeau’s Transformation (00:39)
  29. Isabeau Flies Free (01:14)
  30. Navarre And Imperius (00:42)
  31. Navarre And Philippe Leave The Abbey (01:45)
  32. Wedding Party (01:45)
  33. Navarre’s Transformation (00:44)
  34. Wedding Dance (02:38)
  35. Cezar’s Woods (05:32)
  36. “She Was Sad At First” (02:09)
  37. Navarre Rides To Aquila (01:40)
  38. Philippe And Imperius (00:28)
  39. Wolf Trapped In Ice Pool (02:38)
  40. Navarre And Isabeau’s Dual Transformation (03:24)
    Disc Two

  1. Navarre Sees Phillipe’s Wounds (00:44)
  2. Return to Aquila (02:44)
  3. Phillipe’s Return Through Sewer (01:03)
  4. Bishop’s Procession Chant 1 (01:32)
  5. Bishop’s Procession Chant 2 (01:48)
  6. The Service Begins (Part 1) (00:50)
  7. Navarre’s Instruction to Kill Isabeau (00:50)
  8. The Service Begins (Part 2) (00:40)
  9. Navarre Enters the Cathedral (01:36)
  10. Navarre and Marquet Cathedral Fight (04:27)
  11. Marquet’s Death (02:02)
  12. Isabeau Appears (00:50)
  13. Bishop’s Death (02:30)
  14. The Final Reunion / End Titles (06:07)
  15. Chase Up the Turret / Isabeau’s Fall Part 1 (00:53)
  16. Chase / Fall / Transformation (02:10)
  17. Phillipe Discovers Isabeau’s Secret (01:44)
  18. Imperius Removes Arrow From Isabeau (01:33)
  19. Navarre and Phillipe Leave the Abbey (01:45)
  20. Navarre’s Transformation (00:46)
  21. Wolf Trapped in Ice Pool (02:36)
  22. Phillipe’s Jewel (00:51)
  23. Ent Titles (05:00)
  24. Spot 01 Radio Bed A – 30′ (00:35)
  25. Spot 02 Radio Bed A – 30′ (00:35)
  26. Spot 03 Radio Bed B – 30′ (01:05)
  27. Spot 04 Radio Bed C – 30′ (00:56)
  28. Spot 05 Radio Bed A – 60′ (01:03)
  29. Spot 06 Radio Bed B – 60′ (01:09)
  30. Spot 07 Radio Bed C – 75′ (01:16)
  31. Spot 08 Radio Bed A – 90′ (01:31)
  32. Spot 10 Radio Bed B – 90′ (01:38)
  33. Spot 09 Radio Bed A – Full (03:32)
  34. Ladyhawke Theme (Single) (03:37)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: February 10, 2015
Disc One total running time: 1:08:23
Disc One total running time: 1:01:38

Alan Parsons Project – The Turn Of A Friendly Card: 35th Anniversary Edition

The Turn Of A Friendly Card: 35th Anniversary EditionTime, as the hit single from this album croons, keeps flowing like a river, but the sight of a new 2-CD remaster of the Alan Parsons Project’s The Turn Of A Friendly Card makes me feel like time is bearing down on me like an oncoming flood. It can’t really have been 35 years, can it?

Indeed it can, and in that time The Turn Of A Friendly Card has already been remastered once, and deservedly so: while I Robot and Pyramid and the other early Project albums were nothing to sneeze at, there was some kind of harmonic convergence going on here, putting the right vocalists on the right songs at the right time to get massive radio airplay. “Time”, sung by the late, great Eric Woolfson, and “Games People Play”, sung by Lenny Zakatek, are immortal 1980s radio staples, and they’ve never sounded better. The remainder of the first disc is filled by the bonus material from the earlier remastered release.

The second disc, however, is completely new to this release, containing recently unearthed home demos – billed here as a “songwriting diary” – from the archives of the late Mr. Woolfson, who wrote all of the Project’s songs (despite what any shared credit on the album sleeves might state). There are basically cleaned-up transfers of garden-variety cassette tapes that Eric Woolfson kept rolling as he sat down to discover and shape his songs at the piano, long before any of them went into a studio. For those interested in the process of songwriting, this is fascinating stuff, as we hear Woolfson travel down various unexplored avenues, occasionally landing on gold…and occasionally putting it in reverse and backing up to his original idea.

But the highlight of the second disc, and the real reason to buy this whole album one more time, is down to a single track: the unaccompanied orchestral backing track from “Time”, which also includes backing harmony vocal overdubs performed by the late Chris Rainbow. This is, quite simply, one of the best orchestral backing arrangements that has ever graced a pop song, giving 4 out of 4what was already a gorgeous song incredible depth and power. I can listen to this one track over and over again (and I have done).

It’s rare that I recommend something on the basis of a single track of barely two minutes’ duration, but if you’re already a fan of the Alan Parsons Project and/or a student of how music is put together (by masters of the craft), that track, and indeed the whole second disc, is worth the upgrade.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. May Be A Price To Pay (5:01)
  2. Games People Play (4:23)
  3. Time (5:09)
  4. I Don’t Wanna Go Home (4:59)
  5. The Gold Bug (4:32)
  6. The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Part I) (2:43)
  7. Snake Eyes (3:17)
  8. The Ace Of Swords (2:58)
  9. Nothing Left To Lose (4:07)
  10. The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Part II) (3:31)
  11. May Be A Price To Pay (intro demo) (1:32)
  12. Nothing Left To Lose (instrumental backing track) (4:37)
  13. Nothing Left To Lose (Chris Rainbow vocal overdub compilation) (2:01)
  14. Nothing Left To Lose (early studio version with Eric’s guide vocal) (3:11)
  15. Time (early studio attempt – instrumental) (4:42)
  16. Games People Play (rough mix) (4:32)
  17. The Gold Bug (demo) (2:50)
    Disc Two

  1. May Be A Price to Pay (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (3:26)
  2. Games People Play (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (3:06)
  3. Time (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (4:06)
  4. I Don’t Wanna Go Home (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (2:12)
  5. The Turn of a Friendly Card (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (3:19)
  6. Snake Eyes (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (3:13)
  7. Nothing Left to Lose (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (2:46)
  8. Turn Of A Friendly Card / Snake Eyes / I Don’t Wanna Go Home (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (4:32)
  9. May Be A Price to Pay (Early Version – Eric Guide Vocal & Unused Guitar Solo) (5:03)
  10. Games People Play (Early version – Eric Guide Vocal) (4:32)
  11. Time (Orchestra & Chris Rainbow Backing Vocals) (4:19)
  12. The Gold Bug (Early Reference Version) (5:08)
  13. The Turn of a Friendly Card Part 1 (Early Backing Track) (2:18)
  14. Snake Eyes (Early Version – Eric Guide Vocal) (3:20)
  15. The Ace of Swords (Early Version with Synth “Orchestration”) (3:03)
  16. The Ace Of Swords (Early Version with Piano on Melody) (2:40)
  17. The Turn of a Friendly Card Part Two (Eric Guide Vocal and Extended Guitar Solo) (3:32)
  18. Games People Play (single edit) (3:35)
  19. The Turn of a Friendly Card (single edit) (3:44)
  20. Snake Eyes (single edit) (2:26)

Released by: Sony / Legacy
Release date: November 13, 2015
Disc one total running time: 64:05
Disc two total running time: 70:20

Keats

KeatsIn 1993, after splitting with Alan Parsons Project co-founder Eric Woolfson (who was destined for a new career in musical theater with his Freudiana project, which itself resulted in an excellent if obscure Project album), the aforementioned Mr. Parsons re-launched his group minus the Project moniker – and, for the first time, accepted songs written by members of the long-time group members. (Virtually all of the Project tunes were written by Woolfson and Parsons, with a few choice contributions by orchestral arranger Andrew Powell of Ladyhawke fame). But almost ten years before 1993’s Try Anything Once album, there was a self-titled one-off effort by the Project backing band, operating under the name of Keats.

With such legendary session players as guitar god Ian Bairnson and ex-Pilot members David Paton and Stuart Elliott, Keats isn’t short on talent – but the Keats album sounds like it’s a little short on inspiration. Parsons produces, and that’s a big part of the problem – it sounds like a lost Alan Parsons Project record, only the songs aren’t anything that leap out at the listener. “Walking On Ice” is the best song here by miles, with some excellent vocal harmonies and intriguing keyboard and synth work. Most of the other songs are the aural equivalent of blending into the wallpaper, with a distinctly 80s sound (and one of which veers dangerously close to copying Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger”).2 out of 4

This reissue by Renaissance Records – an indie label which has released CDs by such artists as Bill Mumy and The Be Five – is rounded out by two interviews and some previously unreleased tracks. The interviews are informative, if rather perfunctory, but will yield little information not already known to die-hard Alan Parsons Project fanatics.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Heaven Knows (3:56)
  2. Tragedy (5:01)
  3. Fight To Win (4:10)
  4. Walking On Ice (3:31)
  5. How Can You Walk Away (3:41)
  6. Turn Your Heart Around (3:44)
  7. Avalanche (4:06)
  8. Give It Up (4:25)
  9. Ask No Questions (3:24)
  10. Night Full Of Voices (3:56)
  11. Hollywood Heart (3:43)
  12. interviews with Alan Parsons and Ian Bairnson (26:00)

Released by:
Release date:
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