Alan Parsons Project
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2007, Volume 14, #3
Written by John Metzger
Thereís a fine line that separates ambition from self-absorption, and over the course of its 10 studio albums, the Alan Parsons Project struggled to stay on the right side of it. Considering that Parsons was the engineer who had brought a crisp clarity to the psychedelic atmospheres that graced Pink Floydís Dark Side of the Moon, it isnít surprising that the recordings that were made by the outfit bearing his name were steeped in a similar brand of sonic splendor. A collaboration between Parsons and songwriter Eric Woolfson, the ensemble utilized session players and a revolving door of relatively unknown vocalists to turn its ideas into reality. It initially revealed its grand intentions by setting the works of Edgar Allen Poe to music on its debut Tales of Mystery and Imagination.
It was the Alan Parsons Projectís subsequent set I Robot, however, that garnered mainstream attention for the group. One of its most accomplished endeavors, I Robot, was a loosely knit conceptual piece that, named after Isaac Asimovís series of short stories, dealt with issues of technological advancement, the thought process of humans, and the nature of spirituality. The conflict between man and machine played out within the music as the cold calculation of its prog-rock textures and the icy ambience supplied by its synthesizers and keyboards clashed with the warm sentimentality of its vocals and lyrics.
The Alan Parsons Projectís biggest flaw, however, was that it had a tendency to blend into the backdrop of popular culture in a chameleon-like fashion, and in hindsight it has become readily apparent that, at its core, the outfit was more innovative from a technical standpoint than a compositional one. At times, it seemed to focus too much on fitting into the existing marketplace than on leading it. The squiggly, disco-derived underpinnings that graced the title track and I Wouldnít Want to Be Like You are, of course, the most obvious examples. Yet, Breakdown essentially fused REO Speedwagon with Styx, while Some Other Time and Donít Let It Show inferiorly recycled the theatrical majesty of The Moody Blues. Thirty years hence, a large portion of the affair ó its overwrought power ballads, in particular ó sounds ridiculously dated.
Nevertheless, the latter half of I Robot was considerably more successful. Beginning with the ominous, Bowie-tinted strangeness of The Voice, the Alan Parsons Project found its footing by embracing its strengths and stepping away from its stabs at scoring a hit single. Granted, the final five tracks ó which run the gamut from the sonic waves that crash over Nucleus to the perfect meshing of Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, and The Moody Blues on Day after Day to the space-age discordance of Total Eclipse ó pale in comparison with the contents of Dark Side of the Moon. Yet, they do capture a mood that allows the album to achieve the transcendent posture for which Parsons and Woolfson were striving.
Recently remastered, the latest edition of I Robot boasts five bonus tracks. While none of them are essential, they collectively provide some insight into the recording of the endeavor. Most notable is a new concoction entitled The Naked Robot, which melds together an array of early instrumental segments to form an overture that effectively summarizes the outing in its entirety.
I Robot is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box