CD Review : Alan Parsons – The Secret

Such a prolific, award-winning and high-profile music business history can be a double-edged sword. Parsons was assistant engineer on the last two Beatles albums and as recording engineer went on to work with Paul McCartney and The Hollies, among many others. But his contribution as engineer on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” sealed his place in history and led to successes as a producer, notably with Pilot’s “Magic”, John Miles’ “Highfly” and “Music”, Steve Harley’s “Make Me Smile” and the”Year Of The Cat” album. He could have retired at that point!

In 1975 he met his manager Eric Woolfson and formed the songwriting and performing partnership of the Alan Parsons Project. Debut album, “Tales Of Mystery And Imagination” based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe led to them signing to Clive Davis’ newly launched Arista label and a string of hit conceptual albums: “I Robot” (1977), “Pyramid” (1978), “The Turn of a Friendly Card” (1980), “Eye in the Sky” (1982), “Ammonia Avenue” (1984), “Vulture Culture” (1985), “Stereotomy” (1986), and “Gaudi” (1987). If I might repeat myself – he could have retired at that point!

With long-standing APP collaborators Ian Bairnson (guitar), Stuart Elliott (drums) and orchestral arranger Andrew Powell, Alan dropped the “Project” for Alan Parsons’ “Try Anything Once” (1994), “On Air” (1996) and “The Time Machine” (1999). His live band gained a foothold from this point onwards, with a brief detour into electronica with “A Valid Path” in 2004. He could have ……you know the rest.

And now he’s back! So to the double edged sword of success. It enables you to have the best band, best studios and equipment and best marketing. But it also means you have the highest expectations placed on your shoulders.

Parsons for me has always produced his best with a strong concept. This time round he chooses his longtime hobby of performing magic: “Magic has always been a passion of mine, I am a member of The Magic Castle in Los Angeles. I’ve also worked with the Japanese magic company Tenyo, writing instruction books and catalogs for their tricks. I dabble with magic myself in my free time, so an album with magical influences was a natural progression”.

There’s also a stunning support cast including Steve Hackett, Jeff Kollmann and Ian Bairnson (guitars), live band member Tom Brooks (keys), Nathan East, Guy Erez, Jeff Peterson(bass), Vinnie Colaiuta, Danny Thompson (drums) and Jake Shimabukuru (btw checkout his ukelele Bohemian Rhapsody on you tube). On this album, vocal collaborators include newcomers like James Mraz, stalwarts like PJ Olsson and legends like Lou Gramm.

So, with stellar support and a mystical concept, do we have a winner? Weeeeelllllll…..let me first of all say that it can be difficult and indeed wrong to compare music from different generations. When we look back to a less complicated time of life where music arguably had more meaning and listen to it, it evokes deep and generally happy memories, whereas all current music by definition has no similar backstory. So let’s acknowledge but forget past glories.

‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ is an almost Trans-Siberian Orchestral take on the well known classical theme by Paul Dukas. ‘Miracle’ is classic Parsons, with well-structured, layered instrumentation building the concise verse and chorus. ‘As Lights Fall’ is almost reminiscent of the late Eric Woolfson with low Chris Rainbow-like backing vocal hints, and another effortlessly smooth soft rock number. I have often wondered whether it was his orchestral dexterity that got Parsons accepted into the prog fraternity. Well, this time round I applaud his adventurousness in constructing a song with a single note main vocal throughout. Garnished by adventurous orchestration and entwined with harmonic melodies, ‘One Note Symphony’ works extremely well. ‘Sometimes’ is a classic power ballad eminently suited to Gramm’s emotive vocals. ‘Soiree Fantastique’ may begin and end like ‘Une Nuit in Paris’ but has gorgeous dual vocals soaring over its cinematic soundtrack. ‘Fly to Me’ is semi-acoustic Beatlesque, ‘Requiem’ gives Jellyfish’s clever pop-rock sophistication a jazzy twist, and ‘Beyond the Years of Glory’ is reminiscent of the classic Colin Blunstone ‘Old and Wise’. ‘The Limelight Fades Away’ has a similar typical jaunty Parsons vibe and ‘I Can’t Get There from Here‘ is a classy anthemic closer.

Conclusion? Sheer class. Polished but still emotionally vibrant. Wonderfully enhanced by sweeping orchestral arrangements, superbly chosen vocal performances, and well crafted band and solo performances, Parsons doesn’t put a foot wrong, whether as conceptualiser, songwriter, performer, conductor or producer. I have to say it really takes me back to his heyday, but at the same time is a strong modern release that stands on its own two feet. Magic indeed!

1. THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (instrumental)*
2. MIRACLE (lead vocal: Jason Mraz)
3. AS LIGHTS FALL (lead vocal: Alan Parsons)
4. ONE NOTE SYMPHONY (lead vocal: Todd Cooper)
5. SOMETIMES (lead vocal: Lou Gramm)
6. SOIRÉE FANTASTIQUE (lead vocal: Todd Cooper, Alan Parsons)
7. FLY TO ME (lead vocal: Mark Mikel)
8. REQUIEM (lead vocal: Todd Cooper)
9. BEYOND THE YEARS OF GLORY (lead vocal: PJ Olsson)§
10. THE LIMELIGHT FADES AWAY (lead vocal: Jordan Huffman)
11. I CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE (lead vocal: Jared Mahone)§

Guitars: Steve Hackett (on *), Jeff Kollmann, Dan Tracey, Tony Rosacci, Ian Bairnson (solo on §), Alan Parsons
Synth, Keyboards: Andy Ellis, Tom Brooks, Dan Tracey, Alan Parsons
Piano: Pat Caddick, Angelo Pizzaro
Bass: Nathan East (on *), Guy Erez, Jeff Peterson
Drums: Vinnie Colaiuta (on *), Danny Thompson, Carl Sorensen
Sax: Todd Cooper
Cello: Michael Fitzpatrick
ORCHESTRAL ARRANGEMENTS Tom Brooks / STRINGS CONDUCTED BY Alan Parsons except on * Tom Brooks
ORCHESTRA The CMG Music Recording Orchestra of Hollywood
UKULELE Jake Shimabukuro
TROMBONES Oscar Utterström
TRUMPETS Vinnie Ciesielski

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