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Alan Parsons started out as an EMI sound engineer, and later made a series of collaborative albums, mostly to some arty concept or other, under his "Project" name. This debut, based on Edgar Allan Poe's gothic prose, was by all accounts his best, and subsequent works degenerated into cheesy middle-of-the-road pop.
As expected from a studio boffin, it's got a lush and complex production. It might be categorised alongside Rick Wakeman's notorious stuff as rock-opera with orchestras and choirs, but unlike the dire "King Arthur", this is an example of how to do it properly. It's melodic and unindulgent. The big variety of rock and orchestral sounds here are used sparingly, subtly and with restless invention and good timing. The orchestral arrangements add nicely to the melodrama of Poe's works. Orson Welles contributes a couple of suitably thespy voiceovers, miles from the corny Wakeman "who so pulleth out this sword from this stone...".
The extended piece "The Fall of the House of Usher" is orchestra nearly all the way through, starting with some very Debussy-like atmosphere-setting, and moving cinematically towards an apocalyptic climax. "The Raven" was a slightly risky story to set as one of Poe's most famous. It could have easily cheese-bombed, but this hypnotic one-chord arrangement works, despite the Vocoder narration. The creepy tale "The Cask of Amontillado" is set to a 70's Carpenters-style ballad, which initially sounds utterly inappropriate but it actually gives an decently sinister effect. All the more effective since it doesn't hang around for long before the orchestra joins to build up the tension. The album's only weak points are the occasionally dodgy singing, like Arthur Brown's tongue-waggling screams on "The Tell-tale Heart", and the relatively drippy closing song "To One in Paradise".
Maybe too seventies-sounding for some tastes, and maybe too poppy for Poe, but the tunes and rich musical arrangements hold this album up extremely well.
April 27, 2004