Eye In The Sky

The Alan Parsons Project

Arista Records, 1982


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The Alan Parsons Project has long lurked among the outer-rim constellations of my musical galaxy, a group I’ve enjoyed in moderate doses and often on a song-by-song basis. To date, the only APP album that has hit all the right notes for me from start to finish is 1980’s The Turn Of A Friendly Card. But when a genuine Parsons-ophile like my DV colleague Duke Egbert sings the praises (heh) of an APP album I wasn’t that familiar with until very recently—1982’s Friendly Card follow-up Eye In The Sky—I am constitutionally required to pay attention.

The songs on Eye are once again all co-composed by producer Parsons and his creative other half Eric Woolfson, both of whom contribute a variety of keyboards. The supporting cast of players from Friendly Card returns as well, including the superb core band of Stuart Elliott (drums), David Paton (bass), Ian Bairnson (guitar), Mel Collins (sax) and Andrew Powell (orchestra arranger/conductor), along with a rotating lead vocal ensemble that includes Woolfson, Chris Rainbow, Lenny Zakatek, Elmer Gantry, and Colin Blunstone (of The Zombies).

Dynamic opener “Sirius” is one of the APP’s very best instrumentals (and thanks to the Chicago Bulls, probably its most widely recognized). It’s not just Parsons’ dramatic Fairlight programming that makes the track, though; the pulsing rhythm section and orchestration give the keyboards real muscle, and Bairnson puts the cherry on top with a typically laser-focused solo.

“Sirius” then drops into the dreamy title track, which works as well as it does because it immediately begins to build, adding layers of instrumentation through the first two verses so that when they do hit the chorus, it achieves a real sense of liftoff (pun absolutely intended). And while Woolfson has a more delicate voice than some of the other vocalists the APP deploys, there’s actually a hint of menace woven into the airy matter-of-factness of lines like “I can read your mind.” (It’s also funny how time shifts your perceptions of songs; in 1982 this one felt like science fiction, whereas nowadays it feels like the evening news.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

After that powerful one-two punch opening, Eye In The Sky stumbles a bit. “Children Of The Moon” opens with an instrumental sequence whose components feel at least partially recycled from Friendly Card. Not that there’s anything wrong with revisiting your own ideas, but then when the pre-chorus arrives it sends the whole song off the rails with a couple of seriously wonky transitions. Whatever momentum remained is then stalled out by “Gemini,” a dull, sing-songy mid-tempo number whose layered vocal arrangement is the only notable thing about it.

Things improve again with “Silence And I,” a melancholy ballad that rides on Woolfson’s plaintive lead vocal, Collins’ evocative sax work, and Powell’s typically tasteful orchestrations. Around 2:30 the group’s prog instincts kick in as the song accelerates with sprightly piano, bolder strings, and super-sized horns, feeling a bit over the top in places yet very APP, i.e. clever and theatrical. A couple of minutes later they cycle back down to reprise one more melancholy verse and chorus, leaving space at the end for another nice little solo from Bairnson.

(Speaking of which, a sidebar question: is Ian Bairnson the Mike Campbell of prog-pop—as in, the team-player guitar ace who consistently delivers a brief-yet-memorable solo that puts a precise exclamation point on the song without ever distracting from its momentum?)

The second half Of Eye offers greater consistency, with “You’re Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned” delivering a fairly straight-up rocker that lets lead vocalist Lenny Zakatek cut loose a bit. The catchy “Psychobabble” follows with Elmer Gantry giving it a suitably off-kilter reading. And the instrumental “Mammagamma” might be the best thing here, a rolling, dynamic piece whose tidal rhythms are decorated with shiny yet ominous synth lines.

Near the end, “Step By Step” features lush yacht-rock-adjacent background vocals offering a contrasting pop sheen to Zakatek’s typically gritty lead vocal, before the heavily orchestrated, philosophical closer “Old And Wise” closes things out with pleasant grandeur.

In the end this album is something of a mixed bag, with a trio of very strong tunes, a passel of solid ones, and a couple of weaker links. On the plus side, it features two of the very best instrumental pieces from a group that’s delivered a number of notable ones, and the performances and production consistently meet the group’s high standard. If you temper your expectations a bit, Eye In The Sky has plenty to offer.

Rating: B

User Rating: A-



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