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The Alan Parsons Project - Tales Of Mystery And Imagination CD (album) cover


The Alan Parsons Project


Crossover Prog

4.06 | 674 ratings

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4 stars In early 1976 I was working at a record superstore and I have to tell you that the marketing and in-house advertising for this album was so extravagant and over the top that there was no way in Hades it could live up to its "next big thing" hype. We're talking stuff like freestanding, life-sized cardboard cutouts of mummies placed in the aisles and plastic ravens hanging from the rafters. The local reps gave every employee a complimentary LP, tee shirt and button in an attempt to create word-of-mouth promotion, as well. Inside the fancy album cover was a full chronology of Edgar Allan Poe's life, extensive credits and a 12"x12" eight-page booklet containing lyrics, photographs and illustrations nestled between two leafs of onion-skin paper. In other words, 20th Century Records sank the entire pension fund into this thing. However, I found that the music on the vinyl didn't meet my needs at the time (I was heavily into the harder sounds of Yes, King Crimson, Return to Forever, etc.) so, after a few cursory listens, I filed it in one of my crammed orange crates and forgot about it. Thirty years later I discovered that it's highly regarded by many prog rock lovers and decided to blow off the dust and give it a spin. I was surprised at how much I liked it.

I gather that Orson Welles recited narration that was added to the newer version released in the eighties but my original LP doesn't have it so the opening tune, "A Dream Within A Dream," is an instrumental. And a fine one, at that. It has a dreamy, mysterious beginning and a very Pink Floydian build up that's very effective as it leads right into "The Raven." Alan Parsons was ahead of his time and didn't hesitate to utilize new innovations so the Harmony Vocoder was introduced here. Very cool effect. It's not a particularly remarkable song in and of itself but the pristine orchestral score in the middle section is outstanding. Throughout the album the solo, harmony and chorale work is top notch and each featured vocalist is suitably cast for the tune they sing. A case in point is "The Tell-Tale Heart," a song about unbearable guilt that drives the protagonist stark raving mad, performed eloquently by Mr. Manic himself, the "fiery" Arthur Brown. Once again the soaring symphonic passage halfway through elevates it above the ordinary. As the studio engineer who worked under Sir George Martin on "Abbey Road" Parsons learned from the best and "The Cask of Amontillado" has a definite Beatles aura about it and there's not a thing wrong with that. The strings are crisp and clear as well as the intricate vocalizations, making this one of the highlights of the album. "(The System Of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" is very pop and debuts the distinct aural characteristics that would indelibly brand future "Project" hit songs and endeavors. It's an okay tune but a little too contrived and formulaic to me. In my book it's the awesome "The Fall of the House of Usher" that garners the MVP trophy. While Parsons and Eric Woolfson are the principal architects, it is Andrew Powell who is the creative force behind this epic five-part collaboration. "Prelude," as a symphonic composition, compares favorably with the works of modernists such as Gustav Mahler and Claude Debussy in its structure and tone. Yes, it's that good. "Arrival" starts with a thunderclap and rain before an organ and some programmed synthesizers start a slow build that is reminiscent of parts of "The Dark Side of the Moon." After a brief return visit from the orchestra for "Intermezzo" the piece transitions to a more contemporary style for "Pavane" with guitars, keyboards and some delicate upright bass. The use of classic stringed instruments like the Cimbalom and the Kantele (played flawlessly by John Leach) creates a unique, beautiful atmosphere. There's a dynamic, slow rising tide of sound leading up to "Fall," a fitting, noisy affair to end the opus. For Parsons and Co. to include something so unorthodox was admirably gutsy and bold. Therefore it endures as a model of what progressive music is. The closer, "To One in Paradise," is a pretty ballad with deep, flanged guitars and a chord progression that brings to mind Pink Floyd once more.

Another important aspect of this album is the fact that it was one of the first to acknowledge the huge revolution going on in home stereo systems during the mid- seventies. There was a growing demand for LPs that were immaculately engineered, produced and mastered so pricey state-of-the-art amps and speakers could deliver their high-fidelity promises to the consumer. There's no question that this sounds like a million bucks but when you use two hundred musicians to record an album there is an inherent lack of "soul" in the finished product and that's the case here. I truly understand the attraction but I can't tag it as a masterpiece. I rank it somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars, with the stately "Usher" suite serving as the essential prog moment to cherish.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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