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Alan Parsons Project - Tales of Mystery and Imagination - Edgar Allan Poe CD (album) cover

TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION - EDGAR ALLAN POE

Alan Parsons Project

 

Crossover Prog

4.03 | 492 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
4 stars The debut of The Alan Parsons Project is one of the bravest, most adventurous debuts of any progressive act since King Crimson blazed a trail of innovation with their astonishing debut.

It is a retelling or reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe's infamous Tales of Terror, a subject I have some fascination with. I was inexorably drawn to this album for this one reason. The album is rather odd in its construction, featuring a whole vinyl side of an overblown instrumental reworking of The Fall of the House of Usher.

It opens with a blaze of glory featuring the wonderful keyboard work of extraordinaire Eric Woolfson at his best. The monotone bass work is a trademark of many APP songs over the ensuing years and it works as a heartbeat to the music. Soon we are blessed by the brilliance of The Raven, perhaps one of the greatest APP songs, certainly the one that always seems to rear its head on APP compilations. The way the vocoder processed voice enters is always chilling creating an ethereal atmosphere. The lyrics are affectionately akin to Poe's masterpiece. It builds with Andrew Powell's stunning orchestration, a factor that will appear on almost every APP album hereafter. The actor Leonard Whiting is terrific on lead vocals, with Alan Parsons performing the vocals through an EMI vocoder. The album's liner notes state that it was the first rock song that used a digital vocoder, and of course many artists used the device over the years such as Peter Frampton, Camel, The Sweet and a plethora of others.

Arthur Brown of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown is magnificent on The Tell Tale Heart, as is Francis Monkman, from Curved Air, and founder of Sky. This is a rocking song with a strong melody as is most of the earlier APP songs, always catchy and memorable.

The Cask of Amontillado is excellent with vox by John Miles and a stirring orchestra of blaring horns and choral vocals augmenting the chilling soundscape. In some ways the music could be even more creepy as the tales were always bone chilling in themselves, but the music on this album is pleasant enough to digest on side one, although the lyrics are still chilling.

Following this mesmirising start to the album is the single (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether, and as a hit it went to #37 on the Pop Singles chart, not a bad effort for a debut band nobody had heard about. This song has the duel vocals of Jack Harris and John Miles, and opens with the deep gravelly mantra. It moves into a pop feel but nothing like how the band would evolve into during the awful mid 80s. this album is a totally different beast and actually brims over with invention and progressiveness. These traits would be shed in their 80s period unfortunately.

Side two of the vinyl is virtually a dynamic orchestra filled symphonic suite dedicated to the classic tale, The Fall of the House of Usher. This is difficult to digest at first but soon the brilliance of the musicianship somehow seeps into the system and it really is one of the most captivating suites I have heard. The band never did anything this daring again but it is so refreshing and makes this a cult album. It opens with Prelude, with creepy flute and haunting strings, like the soundtrack of a horror movie, albeit majestic and sweeping.

This is a very avant-garde approach and was inspired by the opera fragment "La chute de la maison Usher" by Claude Debussy from 1908 and 1917. It is akin to classical music or soundtrack music from a movie, but somehow it works as a surprise and a delight on this album.

After some awesome thunder and rain pouring down effects we segue into the next part, Arrival. Dracula organ plays and the scene is set for some Hammer Horror fun. The keyboards are incredible from Woolfson, building into a crescendo outbreak of an organic flowing ambience. The drums, bass and guitar are overlayed with strong cathedral organ; it is a fantastic soundscape.

Intermezzo and Pavane continue the sage with beautiful execution. I love the keyboard motif on Pavane giving it an agreeable Spanish-Latin texture. This is APP at their best, reminding me of In The Lap of the Gods from the yet to be released 'Pyramid'. The atmosphere is dense with imagery of darkened forests and that creepy old house that falls into the tarn after the appearance of the apparition. It segues nicely into the preternatural Fall.

This last part is the finale though it is less than a minute and could have been longer. It builds with crashing staccato keyboard stabs that chill the marrow of the bone as the house sinks into oblivion. It creeps me out everytime, sinister, dark and terrifying on every level, this is as dark as the band would get.

To One In Paradise closes the album with a more pleasant song, though it softens the blow for me, and I would rather it had ended with Fall. Not that this is a bad song, but it is out of place here. This song is very gentle and has lovely harmonies, ending things on a more positive note. It sounds a bit like a cross between The Beatles' Across the Universe and the cosmic scapes of Pink Floyd.

Overall, this is definitely one of the all time great debuts, absolutely essential listening and groundbreaking for prog. The 1987 remix version is also worth a listen as it features dialogue and added segments enhancing this original version. This was when APP were at their most innovative and they would continue to produce one excellent album after another for the next few years until it dissolved into standard AOR commercial pop in the 80s. This album is an astonishing achievement and must be listened to by every serious prog fan.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |

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