Friday 19 August 2022

Alan Parsons - From the New World (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 15 Jul 2022
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For someone who seemed to be retired from the music business, Alan Parsons seems pretty set on releasing a lot of new music. I reviewed his most recent studio album, The Secret, in 2019, but I last encountered him as an actor, in an unusual short film called Galactic Fantastic! in 2020. However, I see that he's issued not just one but two live albums since then, with One Note Symphony: Live in Tel Aviv released in February. The Secret arrived no fewer than fifteen years after its predecessor, A Valid Path, but only three years on and here's another one.

I have to say that I liked this a lot more than The Secret immediately and for a few songs, but that faded as everything softened up. That previous album often felt more like a collection of musical numbers to me than a rock album and this ends up there too, albeit not quite so overtly. Certainly for a while, it's more like the rock albums that we remember from Parsons, the early songs full of his instantly recognisable style, with keyboards and guitars merging together before a drop into soft rock with smooth vocals and careful but soaring guitars.

As with The Secret, Parsons brought guest vocalists on board here, which seems unmistakable on transitions like the one from Don't Fade Now to Give 'em My Love, two vocal songs that feature a pair of completely different voices. There are fewer guests here though, the seven from last time reduced to three this, with one caveat that I'll get to later, the three being Tommy Shaw of Styx on Uroboros, but James Durbin of American Idol on Give 'em My Love and David Pack of Ambrosia on I Won't Be Led Astray. Shaw's contribution fits comfortably with his background, but I know Durbin from harder, heavier material, such as his stint in Quiet Riot and his solo Durbin album from 2021, The Beast Awakens.

As that might suggest, this does play very much on the softer side. The Secret, which I surely ought to wonder was written for the previous album of that name, is bouncy, while Uroboros, which I first heard separately as a single, is the sort of mildly progressive rock that I know Parsons for, but then it gets softer and softer. Sure, there are effortlessly strong guitar solos dotted throughout, which shouldn't surprise anyone, but we can't help but wonder what Parsons would sound like if he took a more daring, less safe approach to his music nowadays.

There are moments early, such as with Uroboros and they show up later too. You are the Light has a perkier outlook, with nice Fleetwood Mac-esque harmonies. Halos brings up the keyboards, in a progressive pop fashion and I liked the new wave rhythms and the samples on a first time through but it got better with every repeat. It's this track and, to a lesser degree, Uroboros, that reminds us of just how great the Alan Parsons Project was on so many albums in the seventies and eighties. Had Parsons filled this album with songs like those, I'd be celebrating a return to form rather than highlighting a second underwhelming release in a row.

What else I should mention here is that there's a folk element here that I wasn't expecting. That's there on Don't Fade Now, which feels like a British folk song we might hear someone singing on a stool in a rural pub, and it's especially there later on Goin' Home, merely one that happens to be orchestrated with keyboards. It's an odd departure from the two styles in play here but there's a reason for that and it ties to it being a song dating back to 1922 that became the base for Antonín Dvořák's New World symphony.

I'm sure there are deeper ties here, beyond the album's title, but it's been a while since I've heard that symphony and don't recognise anything beyond the melody on Goin' Home. Certainly, that's not as odd an inclusion here as the closing track, an incredibly accurate cover of a Ronettes' single, Be My Baby, with vocals from a female vocalist I can't find a reference to but who's certainly up to the task at hand. And here's the caveat I mentioned earlier, because as good as this song is and as good as this vocalist is, it feels utterly out of place here.

So, this is definitely better than The Secret but it's a strangely structured album. The best tracks, a combination of the rockier and folkier material, are early and late, with a bundle of soporofic stuff in between. This would have been better with its middle eviscerated and its closer ditched, maybe to be released separately as the tribute to Ronnie Spector I presume it was meant to be, given her passing in January of this year. However, putting that all together means some easy 7/10 material and some easy 5/10 songs too, so I'll split the difference and go with another 6/10.

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