March Through Time: The Alan Parsons Project
The concept of studio-as-instrument has a proud tradition. It began, arguably, with Les Paul, was built upon by The Beatles with George Martin (and certainly others of that era) and then by Jimi Hendrix, Todd Rundgren, etc. The success that engineer/producer Alan Parsons had would lead to him launching a career as head of a “project,” a non-touring studio aggregation with something of a fluid lineup. In later days the group did tour, but during their classic period APP was an intentionally faceless outfit that just happened to make some really compelling music.
- Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1976) – This one bubbled under on its release, but it’s a fascinating work that applied instrumental conceptual approach to lyrics riffing on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Great stuff.
- I Robot (1977) – A great leap forward, and the one to own if you’re only having one. Lots of hits you may have forgotten about, and thrilling instrumental work. Highly atmospheric.
- Pyramid (1978) – Nearly as good as its predecessor, with superb guest vocals and a few minor radio hits.
- Eve (1979) – The concepts keep coming! This one features some excellent lead vocals by Clare Torry, a name that will surely be familiar to the Pink Floyd fans among you. Elsewhere, “Damned if I Do” was a hit.
- The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980) – A monster hit, with Parson’s musical partner Eric Woolfson taking a more prominent vocal role. The extended work of the title track is quite impressive as well. Still, the success of “Time” arguably led the project down a path that wouldn’t satisfy the rock-centric contingent.
- Eye in the Sky (1982) – An even bigger commercial success. It had all of the elements that made the previous record so effective, yet somehow it’s oddly subdued. It rarely rocks.
- Ammonia Avenue (1983) – The hits kept on coming, and the pop (as opposed to rock) sensibility largely takes over. Whatever progressive tendencies APP had were largely suppressed here, but it remains a solid album. More — including an interview — here.
- Vulture Culture (1984) – Suddenly, the hits stopped. There’s nothing exactly wrong with this record, though for anyone who enjoyed the earlier releases it seems devoid of interesting ideas.
- Stereotomy (1985) – Another no-hit wonder, it suffers from the absence of vocalist Lenny Zakatek
- Gaudi (1987) – This record failed to impress me on initial hearing. It’s atmospheric but short on hooks. Hearing it now, it’s lovely; I wasn’t really looking for his kind of subtlety in ‘87. And – like its recent predecessors – it does not rock, nor does it mean to.
Honorable mention: 1988’s The Instrumental Works is a pleasing compilation. There’s also an album called The Sicilian Defense; it was released decades after its making, and Parsons largely disowns it. It dates from long after the end of the (original) vinyl era, and as only released on CD. For all those reasons, I’ve never heard it.