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How do you make the (arguably) best-sounding albums of all time sound even better?
You put them out on vinyl, that’s what! November 2022 sees the release of a limited-edition 11-LP box set of The Complete Albums Collection from The Alan Parsons Project. Only 1,500 sets are being released worldwide by Cooking Vinyl Records, and this is not a set that any fan of the Project should miss.
The new set is a vinyl version of the Complete Albums Collection set released on CD in 2014, and like that version, it includes the 10 studio albums released by the Project from 1976 to 1987, as well as the “lost” Alan Parsons Project album, The Sicilian Defence.
The 2014 set represented the first official release of this album, and the vinyl collection is the first time it’s been out as an LP. Recorded in 1979 after Eve was delivered to the band’s record label, legend has it the record was made by Parsons and his songwriting collaborator Eric Woolfson to meet a contractual obligation, but was never actually intended for release.
The title refers to a chess move, as do its tracks—starting with “P-K4” (pawn to king 4)— that all evoke chess moves. Listening to The Sicilian Defence’s 10 instrumental tracks, you may be underwhelmed. Many of the pieces seem like demos for future songs — “P-Q3” seems like the start of a backing track for a song that could end up on I, Robot, for example. But there is some nice music here. “KtxP” and “P-Qb4” are lovely piano instrumentals (presumably played by Woolfson) that could’ve easily been developed into classic ballads.
The Sicilian Defence may not be classic Alan Parsons Project material, but it wasn’t supposed to be. In fact, Parsons was adamant for a long time that it would never be released at all, but he softened on that position, and we should be glad he did. It’s a fascinating look at what Parsons and Woolfson could create when they weren’t trying that hard, and there’s some nice music on it. Any somewhat-serious collector of this band’s work will want it in their collection, and here’s a way to get a pristine version on vinyl for perhaps the only time ever.
Fortunately, the 10 remaining albums in this set are some of the finest symphonic progressive rock records ever made. As the engineer who recorded Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (which was the stereo demonstration record of the 1970s), Alan Parsons always brought immaculate sound to his productions, and after toiling for other artists, he had the genius idea to make the producer the artist.
Beginning with Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1976), he did just that, rolling out a series of gorgeous works including I Robot (1977), Pyramid (1978), Eve (1979), The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980), Eye in the Sky (1982), Ammonia Avenue (1984), Vulture Culture (1985), Stereotomy (1985), and Gaudi (1987).
All of the albums were conceptual, and while they didn’t necessarily tell cohesive stories, each was a set of songs unified by a theme. The Turn of a Friendly Card, for example, was about gambling. Eve was about women. Gaudi was about the painter Antonio Gaudi. And the debut album was based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.
All of the hits are here—“Eye in the Sky,” “Games People Play,” the gorgeous “Time,” and so on. But they’re readily available on numerous hits collections and live albums. The real appeal of hearing the full albums is to hear the wonderful deep cuts. Check out anything on Pyramid; there isn’t a dud track to be found.
It’s been the subject of debate who did what in the Parsons-Woolfson songwriting collaboration credited with writing all of the songs on these albums. I won’t get into that here, but I will say that Woolfson clearly brought beautiful musicianship to the songs that distinguishes these LPs from the albums Parsons made under his own name after the Project split. The melodies are haunting and unforgettable.
In addition to the superb songwriting, the Project albums are also characterized by a high level of musicianship. While not an actual “band,” the Project did feature stellar players, including Ian Bairnson on guitar, David Paton on bass and Stuart Elliot on drums.
These albums also featured superb vocals from singers including Lenny Zakatek, Chris Rainbow, Colin Blunstone, Paton and special guests like Gary Brooker of Procol Harum fame. Woolfson even began singing lead vocals on later albums, and did just fine, providing the mournful, evocative voice that drove “Time” into the charts. Parsons has said that he and Woolfson chose the best singer for each song, so all of these albums offer plenty of vocal variety.
I also give Parsons and Woolfson a ton of credit for the skillful way they incorporated orchestras and choirs into the music without them ever sounding cheesy or pretentious.
These albums are fantastic, and it’s wonderful to hear them on half-speed mastered vinyl in this set. The quality shown in mastering and manufacturing pays off with crisp, deep sound that makes this a fantastic listening experience. The warmth of 180 gram vinyl gives these albums the deep bass tones and punchy highs they deserve. Parsons engineered these albums for vinyl, and it’s good to have them back in their original intended format.
The box set itself is beautiful. It comes in a box modeled after a cigarette box, embellished with a series of words Woolfson felt described the Project’s music. Each of the original album sleeves has been accurately reproduced with their original art and text intact.
The set also includes a 60-page hardback book that has all of the albums’ lyrics, newly written sleeve notes, and an essay on how the half-speed mastering process worked.
All in all, it’s a gorgeous set that will make a fantastic holiday gift for any fan of the Alan Parsons Project or just great rock music.
For me, I grew up with these albums. It’s nice to have them back as I originally owned them, on vinyl records (with a major upgrade). And The Sicilian Defence is a nice bonus!
Click here for more Alan Parsons on vinyl.