Monday, May 16, 2005

A Valid Path: Alan Parsons

Alan Parsons ventures into new ground in 'A Valid Path", the first studio release in five years. While prog-rock, a la their earlier albums may have been in some ways a progenitor of elecrtronica, in the musical structures, just as perhaps Bach was the forefather of electronica with his own structured musical compositions, in this album, Alan embraces and extends electronica with multiple musical pathways.

Many electronica celebrities such as Shpongle, Uberzone, The Crystal Method, etc. lent a hand in defining this album, and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd lays the chords for the first song, "Return To Tunguska". Alan Parsons himself produced and co-wrote all the material.

This album sparked many visual images in my mind, not least a feeling of describing a far-away land, one unsullied by discordant post-modern rhythms. As a matter of fact, it builds a layered structure that takes multiple listenings to discern, yet is surprisingly evident from the very beginning.

"Return To Tunguska" creates a base, as it were, with soft chords, dolorous in nature, then a faster-paced rhythm, finally bringing Gilmour's guitar-work to the fore, giving it free rein to paint a tonal landscape of rich color.

"More Lost Without You" might be pop-romantic filler, but P J Olsson creates a catchy piece of Ben Harper-style romantica, with the eletronica stuffing one expects. The middle section creates an interesting effect, blending vocal distortion with electronic rhythms. "You're a storm in my head/That really blew a new day/A liquid design/Is what you do to my mind"

"Mammagamma 04" is a remake of the classic Project tune. It is quite slow and gentle, creating an atmospheric effect, and a drum section that reminds me of tribal Indian drums.

"We Play The Game" is classic Parsons, vocalized by Alan himself. It has the pseudo-philosophical bent of many of their songs, "You Raise The Bar/Lost In A Trance/One Bridge Too Far/No Second Chance/But No One Cares/Still No One Cares". The beats would not be out of home in any club anywhere. This song is the true inner filling of the album. It's middle section features rich, powerful bass, and a transition to a faster beat, then faster again. "We Play The Game/We Hold Our Own/We Fight To Win/We Stand Alone" - *****

"Tijuanaic" and "L'Arc En Ciel" are related, both with an atmospheric, gentle air. The Latin beats of the first song blend with rainforest sounds that segue into the second. These sounds create the initial unusual notes of "L'Arc", then transition into a fast '80s-style slectronica instrumental, along with fast lead guitar.

"A Recurring Dream Within A Dream" is a retelling of the original from "Tales Of Mystery and Imagination", superficially not much changed, yet a welcome reminder of the band's past glories. Alan Parsons processes his voice through a vocoder to "quoth the Raven".

"You Can Run" commences with a spooky voice that reminded me of the haunted (or haunting?) kid in "Ringu", but soon enough becomes a rock track, with some mysterious lyrics "I see the lines written on your face/ I wish you well/ But I gotta tell ya/ Ain't nothing human ‘bout the human race"

The final song, "Chomolungma" is truly different. The Tibetan word for Mt Everest, it means "Mother of the Universe". The song uses a fast drum track with overpowering bass, tribal chants, the howls of feral dogs and John Cleese's commentary on "these strange rambling explorations of your unconscious" to reach the summit of a challenging album, a truly "Valid Path".


A Valid Path/Alan Parsons Tales of Mystery & Imagination/Alan Parsons Project The Best of the Alan Parsons Project/Alan Parsons Project Chomolungma Sings the Blues/Ed Douglas Digital Empire: Electronica's Best/Various Artists Tales of the Inexpressible/Shpongle Community Service, Vol. 2/The Crystal Method

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