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Prog rock was always a musical form filled with tonal filigree, berated, certainly by the punk bands that followed, as if musical talent somehow automatically equated with pomposity. Obviously, this is a simplistic way of looking at a genre which often aspired to match the complexity of classical and jazz music. It is not for nothing that John Lydon’s favourite piece of music is Mozart’s Requiem (1791), or that Pete Townshend felt the constrains of the three-minute record and strove for a bigger canvas with his two rock operas, Tommy (1969) and Quadrophenia (1973). The form produced some highly successful bands, including Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart, Mike Oldfield and The Alan Parsons Project.
The 40th anniversary three CD set consists of the original album Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1976. 57 min. 15 tracks) as well as the later remix (1 hr, 03 sec. 15 tracks) undertaken by Alan Parsons and a third CD (1 hr, 11 mins. 15 tracks) of demos and extra tracks not used on the album.
The Alan Parsons Project consisted of the core duo of Alan Parsons, who had worked on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon as well as a number of Beatles, albums and their influences are evident on the CD. The other half of the duo was Eric Norman Woolfson, a Scottish composer and lyricist.
This concept album, is based upon the works of Edgar Allen Poe, famous for his macabre tales, so it’s a little strange that TAPP have produced a series of songs and music pieces which fails to bring to the fore the horror of the original text.
The form of the album follows a trend at the time of starting with a gentle instrumental before segueing into a couple of vocal track. The main middle section of the music being the central multiple music tracks which often revisit the already established themes before returning to a song which gave the overall work a gentle closure.
The album opens with the instrumental 'A Dream within a Dream' (3 min, 32 sec) which starts small and gradually builds until it plateaus. It’s a good introduction to what follows, as it contains both elements of orchestration and rock guitar sounds and sets the records tonal landscape. Think Tubular Bells with a sousant of the Who meets Pink Floyd with a gentle sprinkling of Emerson Lake and Palmer.
'The Raven' (3 min, 58 sec) marries Poe’s original poem to a vocodered vocal performance, once again there is a mixed of electronic and non-electric instruments and the song builds to a crescendo. 'The Tell Tale Heart' is a rock track which is a not too distant cousin to Pink Floyd, full of crashing drums and electric guitar flourishes.
'The Cask of Amontillado' (4 min, 49 sec) epitomises the uncomfortable duality between intent and execution when it comes to many of the tracks. It recounts how, in an act of revenge, Montresor walls the living Fortunato up, in his cellar, behind a brick wall, for some unnamed slight. The song does not conceal the motive as the original short story never revealed what had given Montresor the hump.
So, we have this story of a man being walled up. It may sound horrific, however, the chorus of the song has two counterbalanced vocal tracks, one for each character, and with the backing chorus they creates a sublimely beautiful piece of subtly lilting music, drama is produced with a full orchestra, bombastic in intent, it uses a motif of paring the subtle with interludes of almost explosive musical plumes. There is nothing wrong with the song, I feel that it is actually the best track on a great album; it just doesn’t do anything atonally unsettling.
The close of what would have been the original acetates first side has '(The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether' (4 min, 20 sec), where the Pink Floyd influences are the strongest. It’s a short and easily the weakest on the album, but it is the most easily assessable pop song on the album.
Side two opens with 'The Fall of the House of Usher', itself broken into the separate movements of 'Prelude' (5 min, 52 sec), 'Arrival' (2 min, 42 sec), 'Intermezzo' (1 min, 04 sec), 'Pavane' (4 min, 35 sec) and 'Fall' (53 sec). These are full orchestrated pieces, the first uses the string sections to denote both apprehension and fear, which they convey well.
The original LP ended with 'To One in Paradise' (4 min, 30 sec) which is a very soft ballad, another very much in the Pink Floyd meets Beatles mould. It a nice and easy going ditty.
The CD gives you some extra tracks, a new reworking of the 'Raven' (3 min, 27 sec), which succeeds in making the song worse. 'Edgar' (3 min, 05 sec) is a rather upbeat number about the boogie man. You get the opening narration by Orson Wells (1 min, 04 sec) reading from one of Poe’s nonfiction passages, which will appear again on the remixed album, and a 1976 interview with Parsons and Woolfson (8 min, 34 sec).
The second disc consists of the 2007 remix. Now, this is going to be a bit of a ‘did Han shoot first’. On the plus side the advance in reengineering allowed Parsons to expanded the soundscape pulling apart the various instruments to give a greater clarity, 'The Cask of Amontillado' certainly is one of the beneficiaries, however some of the track have added synth which may grate with lovers of the original.
You also get a number of extra tracks including 'Eric’s Guide Vocal Melody' (9 min, 15 sec) are various sections from the album's main songs. You get a longer, clearer version of Orson Well’s narration (3 min, 09 sec). 'Sea Lions in the Departure Lounge' (2 min, 39 sec) is a non-vocal interlude. Lastly you get the 'GBH Mix (Unreleased Experiments)' (5 min, 23 sec) which sounds like the APP channelling the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
The third CD consists of fourteen tracks of outtakes and rough mixes from the album's creation as well as another interview with Parsons and Woolfson (1987. 20 min, 37 sec)
Enough time has passed to revaluate the album as well as its update, free from the oft times toxic label of prog rock. Personally, I thought it has aged well and with Parsons's background the studio work is masterful.