The Alan Parsons Project – Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allen Poe
Take one sound engineer and producer, who had worked with not only The Beatles but also twiddled the nobs on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon. Add a songwriter and manager who’d provided words and music for the likes of Marianne Faithfull, The Tremeloes and Marmalade, as well as handling Kung-fu fighting one hit wonder, Carl Douglas. Give them a stir with whatever’s at hand, be it spoon, pen or screwdriver, and what have you got?
I’ll tell thee. The Alan Parsons Project is what you’ve got; a collaboration between the aforementioned sound engineer, Alan Parsons, and Eric Woolfson. Together, they would release 10 albums between 1976 and 1987 under the TAPP banner, the first of which, Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allen Poe, is without a doubt the finest.
Created in conjunction with an army of session musicians and guest vocalists – Parsons and Woolfson pitching in where necessary – the 1976 debut is a masterly example of the much-derided concept album in action. Each track takes one of Edgar Allen Poe’s tales of the macabre and adapts it to a piece of prog rock loveliness. Granted, it loses something in its translation, ensuring little of the suspense or, indeed, the mystery that its source material provides, but who cares when there’s such a cracking selection of tunes on offer?
Tales of Mystery and Imagination is an album shot through with highlights, of which ‘The Raven’ (featured on August’s ‘Prog Rock Mixtape‘, for those who’ve still not heard it) comes out on top. Allegedly the first rock song to feature a digital vocoder, its lushly distorted vocal, courtesy of Parsons himself, adds a deeper dimension to actor Leonard Whiting’s lead vocal and provides the atmospheric perch upon which the rest of this outrageous concept piece is allowed to thrive.
Whereas Roger Corman had Vincent Price, Parsons has the consistently reliable, and HFoS favourite, Arthur Brown providing his unique stylings upon the frantic ‘Tell-Tale Heart’. The histrionics associated with the “God of Hellfire” find a perfect outlet in the musical rendering of this guilt-ridden tale of madness. Whatever the crazy fucker had beneath his own floorboards in 1976 is anybody’s guess.
Future Alan Parsons Projects would sound very 1980s in their execution, as off-putting for me as your good self, I’m sure, but Tales of Mystery and Imagination remains resolutely 1970s throughout. Keyboard heavy and not afraid to let its more ostentatious persona let rip.
The duo’s classical pretensions reach fruition on the instrumental suite ‘Fall of the House of Usher’, which is carved into five sections and incorporates a fully blown orchestra in its interpretation of one of Poe’s most famous works. Subtle and audacious in turns, it provides a fittingly stylish focal point for the album as a whole, although its po(e)-faced bearing is less in tune with the purposely overwrought Grand Guignol that precedes it.
Unfortunately, the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t ruddy fix it” fell upon deaf ears in 1987, when Tales of Mystery and Imagination was remixed and an Orson Welles narration (recorded in 1976 for promotional purposes) was added. This is included on the 2-disc Deluxe Edition of the album, along with a host of other bonus tracks, including an original demo of ‘The Raven’, minus vocoder devilry.
Nonetheless, this 1976 masterpiece remains an essential slice of progressive rock; the type of which embraced studio boffinry but not to the extent that it sucked the life from it, as with future Alan Parsons Projects.
Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project is available to buy as a Deluxe Expanded edition from Amazon.co.uk
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