September 20, 1995
Alan Parsons, The Very Best Live (RCA Victor 1995) - Alan Parsons' work with Alan Parsons Project in the mid-to-late 70s helped define classic rock. Albums such as Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Pyramid, and The Turn of a Friendly Car cemented his status as a hitmaker, and yielded such hit singles as "Eye in the Sky" and "Don't Answer Me."
Thus, it's amazing that Alan Parsons started touring only a few years back, and never played in the United States until this summer. The Very Best Live (which was culled from his recent appearances in Europe) amply displays Parsons' strengths -- intricate melodies and layered instrumentation. With 15 perfectly-produced tracks, The Very Best Live highlights Parsons' biggest hits, while also proving there's still life in 70s classic rock.
Before launching The Alan Parsons Project in 1976, Parsons was the engineer and co-producer of some of the best-known rock albums of all time. Parsons began by working under the famed George Martin on the Beatles' Abbey Road album, and also assisted on Let It Be. Later sessions included the Hollies' hits, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" and "The Air I Breathe," as well as work with Olivia Newton-John, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney.
Parsons' career took off when he engineered Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, followed by production work on the Al Stewart gems, Year of the Cat and Time Passages. During his long career, Parsons has also garnered 11 Grammy nominations.
In 1992, Parsons regrouped the band and turned a new leaf. His current ensemble features some of England's finest session musicians, including Ian Bairnson on guitars, Andrew Powell on keyboards, vocalists Gary Power and Chris Thompson, Stuart Elliot on drums, Richard Cottle on keyboards and sax, and Jeremy Meeks on bass. Of course, the lineup is completed by Parsons himself on guitars, keyboards and vocals.
The new 74-minute album draws widely from Parsons' studio work, and includes such hits as "Time" and "The Raven" (which I fondly recall as part of a peak experience during an outdoor gig years ago).
The standout cut on the album is the haunting "Limelight," which originally appeared on 1984's Stereotomy.
"Limelight" is a beautiful ballad about the allure and dangers of fame, and deserves considerable airplay. Which, given the confused state of pop music, it probably won't receive. And that's a shame.
Considering the rebound of classic 70s rock, Alan Parsons should be welcomed back, as he was one of the pillars of that sound. The Very Best Live may be uneven at times, but the highlights are well worth the effort.
Edwyn Collins, Gorgeous George (Bar/None Records 1995) - It seems Edwyn Collins (formerly of Orange Juice) is a hit everywhere but the United States. He's a favorite in France, and adored in Australia. As proof of his stardom, Gorgeous George (which is Collins' third solo album) reached the top five in several European countries, selling more than 150,000 copies in France alone, and reaching number one in Belgium.
While Collins remains largely unknown in the U.S., Gorgeous George should provide his continental breakthrough. Amid Collins' trademark downcast love songs are sparkling pop ditties and quirky rock numbers. All told, Gorgeous George is an alluring package.
Collins is a curious hybrid; his vocals have a David Bowie tint mixed in with the tongue-in-check sarcasm of fellow Scotsman Bob Geldof. Somewhat eccentric, Collins began making music in the late 70s with Orange Juice.
After a successful five-year run, Orange Juice split up. Says Collins, "We were always quite playful, but at the core, we had a sense of social mischief...We thought we could destroy the infrastructure of the music business, but we ended up shaking hands with the beast."
Collins' output during the past decade has been sparse. Hope and Despair, his first solo album, was recorded in Cologne, Germany in 1989, and his second solo disc, Hell Bent on Compromise, was released in 1991.
In discussing his influences, Collins says "When I think of the word 'post-modern,' I think of radical eclecticism, which is what I think it meant originally. In that sense, I think this is extremely post-modern. I'll use ribbon mikes from the 1940s alongside guitar feedback, not because of nostalgia, but because boundaries of any kind disturb me."
While a number of guest artists help on Gorgeous George (such as Vic Godard and Sean Read), the core band on the new album consists of Collins on vocals, guitars and keyboards, Paul Cook on drums and percussion, and Claire Kenny on bass.
By turns melancholic and inspired, Gorgeous George never gets stuck in a rut. My favorite cuts are the more pop-oriented numbers, such as the bouncy "A Girl Like You" (which has already been a big hit overseas) and the title track. Other solid cuts include the danceable "Out of This World," and the smooth pop/swinger, "If You Could Love Me."
Collins' quirky personality and willingness to take chances are evident throughout Gorgeous George. Join the rest of the world on this tasty international morsel.
-- Randy Krbechek
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