Friday 26 April 2019

Alan Parsons - The Secret (2019)

Country: UK
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 26 Apr 2019
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Well, here's one I wasn't expecting. I grew up listening to the Alan Parsons Project, not to mention all those amazing records he engineered without many of us understanding the depth of his involvement (The Dark Side of the Moon came up in conversation recently and I was able to blow a couple of minds). However, not counting the resurfacing of their 1979 contractual obligation record, The Sicilian Defence, in 2014, there hasn't been an album with his name on the cover since 2004's solo release, A Valid Path.

Well, until now, that is. Given the lyrics of As Lights Fall, which Parsons sings himself, we have to wonder afresh if it's the last one we'll see from him. 'One more trip around the sun, one more dance behind the moon,' sings Parsons. 'When my final feat is done, I'll share the moment here with you. Meet me there as lights fall. This will be my curtain call.' Well, I hope not, as this is pretty good, if rather safe.

For a safe album, it kicks off in rather strange and experimental fashion, with an orchestral interpretation of Paul Dukas's The Sorcerer's Apprentice (you know, that one that accompanied Mickey Mouse in Fantasia), as if he was tasked to choreograph some sort of Disney on Ice spectacle, merely with the guitar of Steve Hackett as prominent accompaniment.

As the album unfolds, it's clear that The Sorcerer's Apprentice is here to both raise the spectacle and to introduce the theme, because magic recurs throughout the album, from the art on the cover to the quoting of Clarke's Third Law in One Note Symphony (was that the voice of Neil Gaiman?), each time taking a different approach. I wonder if the album came about because Parsons wrote Fly to Me and took its line, "What can you say about magic that's not been said before?", as a songwriter's challenge.

Musically, it's an anomaly though, albeit a well done anomaly, because we return to what we might expect from Parsons for the second track, Miracle, and remain there throughout. His work was always known for catchy but soft, mildly progressive, rock with a smooth vocalist and a capably supporting keyboardist and that's precisely what Miracle delivers, with Jason Mraz at the microphone to provide those smooth vocals. I've heard of Mraz, though I hadn't heard him, and am happy to discover that he could easily have been singing for Parsons for decades, were he old enough.

If I'm counting correctly, there are seven guest vocalists here, in addition to Parsons, who sings a song and a half himself. The most notable is one Lou Gramm, who sings Sometimes which, with its light strings, could have been a selection from a Broadway musical. It's not the only song to feel that way, and some, like Requiem, often threaten to dip into smooth jazz territory as well. I do like that bassline, though, and the saxophone gets serious by the end.

Not everything here is overtly soft. One Note Symphony is much closer to the prog rock label that Parsons has been stuck under since the beginning and it has to be said that there are a few nice guitar solos. However, there's more sax than guitar, I think, and every time things start to get up tempo, they promptly slow back down again. This is very much a vocal album, not just for having prominent vocals but for fitting in that vocal pop category.

I can't say I didn't like The Secret and I'm more than happy to see another Alan Parsons record. I'll also add that, while his songs are often good on a first listen, it often takes a few listens to truly grasp everything that he did with them. Right now, this feels like a musical rather than an album and I'm not so fond of that approach. If you know Parsons from Eye in the Sky, I have a feeling this will be rather underwhelming.

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