ALAN PARSONS – The Secret

Ok. Where shall I start? I must admit that I’m not that well versed in Alan Parsons and all his activities. Thing is, I really don’t know squat about the guy other than that I have seen his name in articles and such. Before this review, I didn’t even know what the guy looked like and I can’t name a single song of his. According to Wikipedia, Parsons started his band The Alan Parsons Project back in 1975 and in 1976 they released their debut album Tales Of Mystery And Imagination and has to this day released eleven albums, the last one, The Sicilian Defense came out in 2014. Parsons has also released five solo albums, including this new one of which the first one, Try Anything Once, came out in 1993. But his musical career started back in 1967 when he, at the age of 18, got the job as an assistant engineer at Abbey Road studios and has since then worked on classic albums with bands such as The Beatles, Wings and Pink Floyd.

When the now 70 year old Grammy winner is about to release his first solo album in 15 years, it was Frontiers Records that got the guy’s signature on a contract which made said album find its way into yours truly’s mailbox. As you might have guessed by now, I have no clue of what to expect here and all I know is that Parsons is a highly respected musician and song writer, so I guess that no matter what my final judgement will be, it’s no half-arsed project I will be taking part of here. The instrumental opener “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” reveals exactly that. It’s a rock arranged version of Paul Dukas’ poem featuring Steve Hackett (Genesis, GTR) on guitar. The song holds a huge sound-scape, symphonic and theatrical, full of strings and orchestration but also with a whole bunch of hooks. The song sounds like a score for a movie soundtrack and without being the least radio-friendly, it’s a damn good tune that actually sticks.

We get some progressive Pop in “Miracle”,a soft-spoken, laid-back number, both smooth and silky with a West-Coast twist complete with a soothing saxophone solo. Sung by one Jason Mraz – a great vocalist that I haven’t heard of before – the tune holds an AOR-laden refrain, catchy but not the least cheesy. Very good. Parsons takes the lead vocal himself on the quite soft and laid-back, somewhat psychedelic single “As Light Falls”. It’s smooth and poppy but upbeat and rhythmic with acoustic guitars at the front. An addictive main-melody takes us to the brilliantly catchy refrain that catches on without being the least radio-friendly. Very good. The bombastic “One Note Symphony” holds a big sound, orchestrated and symphonic with a laid-back vocal track signed Todd Cooper, another great vocalist I’m not that familiar with. The song holds a cinematic vibe and a very memorable melody – good one.

Theatrical and with a big, bombastic and close to an overblown sound-scape, the ballad “Sometimes” brings on an atmosphere that makes it feel like it belongs in a musical theater. Piano, acoustic guitars and a mighty string arrangement, it’s sung by the still brilliant ex- Foreigner Lou Gramm. Without a doubt a stand-out track on the album. “Soiree Fantastique” sees Parsons split the lead vocal with Todd Cooper. It’s a smooth, quite slick ballad but also somewhat trippy where Pink Floyd meets late 60’s Beatles and discovers AOR and West-Coast together. It holds a very memorable melody-line and it’s a catchy tune albeit not mainstream or hit-laden. Good one. Mark Mikel, another new name for me, takes over the lead vocals for soft, laid-back and even cozy “Fly To Me”. The Beatles influence here is quite obvious and not only musically but also because of Mikel’s McCartney-like phrases. It’s basically a down-to-earth tune with a great vocal arrangement and memorable melodies all over. Very good.

“Requiem” branches out in several different directions without bringing on a split personality. Electric guitars kicks the song off before it takes an 80’s Toto turn but also contains blues and some jazzy moments. John Lennon’s 70’s solo stuff also comes to mind here. You can’t get bored with a song like this. It’s sung by Cooper and very good. “Beyond The Years Of Glory” is another slow ballad, but with a big orchestration and melodies reminiscent of Pink Floyd, a grand arrangement and a cinematic atmosphere with one PJ Olsson singing. A prog ballad complete with a well-fit saxophone solo. Very good. “The Limelight Fades Away” is the most upbeat one so far albeit still very smooth. It holds an early 80’s AOR-ish vibe, a meaty Rock guitar solo and a catchy refrain. Jordan Huffman sings it. Great song. Closing track “I Can’t Get There From Here” is a soft and acoustic guitar based ballad but full of strings and a smooth, slick and catchy refrain with great vocals by Jared Mahone. A bit on the sweet side but a very good tune.

I liked this record by first spin and it has grown on me more and more since then. On the minus account, the whole pace of the album is a bit too slow and it alternates between slow songs and pure ballads – a couple of uptempo songs more wouldn’t have hurt. But the most important thing is that the quality of the songs is high – and that is accomplished here. Style wise, Parsons has managed to make sure that this record doesn’t sound split-up despite it features no less than eight singers, all of them very, very good. That said, Gramm is the only one I had any knowledge of before I heard this record. A big production with a huge sound-scape that brings on the feel of a movie or a musical goes hand in hand with the structure of the songs which helps making this a strong record. Having never heard anything by Parsons before, this is a really fine introduction. A very good come-back!

7/10

Tracklist:

1. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
2. Miracle
3. As Light Falls
4. One Note Symphony
5. Sometimes
6. Soiree Fantastique
7. Fly To Me
8. Requiem
9. Beyond The Years Of Glory
10. The Limelight Fades Away
11. I Can’t Get There From Here

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