While it might be easy to dismiss this as yet another string tribute “Mantovani Mangles Mott The Hoople” train wreck, there’s something compelling about Andrew Powell Plays The Alan Parsons Project – Powell was the orchestral arranger (and in some cases composer) on many of these original songs. He’s not completely removed from the proceedings. In other words, he’s not that easy to dismiss, even though this ultra-obscure 1983 album smacks of “cash in while you can”. (It may or may not be a coincidence that the only Project album with which Powell wasn’t involved as 1984’s Vulture Culture – maybe this is what he was doing with his free time, or someone decided to give him free time as a result of this album. Take your pick.)
The proceedings open in grand style with a musical mash-up combining “Lucifer” (from the Eve album), “Mammagamma” (from Eye In The Sky) and the heraldic opening horns of “May Be A Price To Pay” (the first thing you heard on The Turn Of A Friendly Card). Long before remix maestros were mashing it up for themselves, Powell was doing an interesting job of it himself, and somehow it works. Not everything on the album is so lucky.
“I Robot Suite” and “Damned If I Do” are also interesting listens, with the former in particular covering ground that I wish the instrumental backing track medley on the remastered I Robot CD had covered. My one beef with the “I Robot Suite” is that it really plays fast and loose with the tempos of the original songs, moreso than just about any of this album’s other adaptations – “Some Other Time” becomes almost jaunty, something that the song’s subject just doesn’t lend itself to. “What Goes Up…” also fares well, combined with a very cool orchestral interpretation of its lead-off instrumental, “Voyager”, and, at the very end, some surprising (and neat) musical callbacks to “The Raven” and “Genesis Ch. 1 v. 32”.
Not all of these great Alan Parsons Project classics manage to avoid losing something in the translation, though. “Time”, “Eye In The Sky” and “Old And Wise” become – and I mean this in the nicest way – vapid elevator music. “Time” and “Old And Wise”, which leaned so heavily on the orchestra in their original recordings, actually manage to lost something in the transition to purely orchestral music with no vocals. This boggles my mind – I wouldn’t have expected the person who arranged these songs in the first place to misplace the magic. Somehow he does. “Pavane” (one movement of Tales Of Mystery & Imagination‘s “Fall Of The House Of Usher” suite) takes some odd turns in its arrangement as well. “Games People Play”, a largely synthesized song that had virtually no orchestral accompaniment in its original incarnation, at least manages to be energetic like its inspiration, but kicks off with a really bizarre, horror-film-style intro.
The truth is, I’ve heard far worse “string tribute to…” albums out there, and this one at least seems to have benefitted – at least in some places – from the involvement of the musician who concocted the original songs’ orchestral arrangements. Still, where this album misfires, that very involvement is what makes the misfires so utterly baffling. Two thoughts spring to mind: I wonder why some of these tracks haven’t resurfaced as bonus tracks on the songs’ respective remastered albums (does the label that owns these recordings want too much money, or is this album a point of contention between Powell and his former Project cohorts?), and despite the misfires, I could easily come up with a second album’s worth of suggestions that could do well in this format. Obviously, 25 years later is probably not a good time to suggest either one (or, for that matter, to suggest a new pressing of this album), but it’s a curiosity that serves as an interesting sidebar to the Alan Parsons Project’s legacy.
- Lucifer / Mammagamma (5:34)
- Time (5:07)
- Games People Play (4:16)
- I Robot Suite (8:22)
- Damned If I Do (3:40)
- Pavane (The Fall Of The House Of Usher) (4:44)
- What Goes Up… (5:35)
- Eye In The Sky (4:27)
- Old And Wise (5:04)
Released by: Disky
Release date: 1983 (re-released on CD in 1997)
Total running time: 46:49