Ammonia Avenue

The Alan Parsons Project

Arista Records, 1984

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


It is, I suppose, no mistake that the Alan Parsons Project, famous for their theme albums, would create a release in 1984 about alienation in modern society and the growing inability to really feel and communicate in the age of high technology. (This was, for you youngsters, long before the Internet gave rise to the same concerns. Believe it or not, young 'uns, people were alienated before the Internet.) 1984 was also a pivotal year for the band because they were looking down the barrel marked 'Following Up A Big Hit' -- to wit, 1982's #3 single "Eye In The Sky" and the #7 album of the same name. Two difficult and ambitious goals. Perhaps it was too much to bite off in one chunk, but they gave it a shot.

In the end, the question 'did they succeed?' can be answered with a definite 'yes and no'. Yes, in that 1984's Ammonia Avenue did spawn two Top Forty singles and a Top Fifteen album -- but no in that it didn't do as well as my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Eye In The Sky and that the Project would never do so well on the charts again. Yes in that the album contains some stark, beautiful tracks about the subject matter, but no in that the album also includes what this humble but severely fanatical and opinionated reviewer considers the worst Project track in their entire recording history.

As one can expect from Parsons' work, the production and engineering is flawless; so flawless, in fact, that this is one of the few Project CDs where the sound is -- perhaps purposefully -- just one step short of sterile. Musicianship is brilliant, with the severely underrated Ian Bairnson turning in several very tasty bits on guitar. This leaves the songs and the arrangements, traditionally the areas where Parsons and his band of studio musicians either rose or fell. In this case, it's both.

What works is where Parsons leaves in the damn orchestra. Excuse me for being blunt, but I grew to love the Alan Parsons Project because in the middle of a lovely rock song, they'd suddenly pop in a full string section and some brass. There are great sweeping chunks of Ammonia Avenue where there's nary an orchestra pit to be found, and that absence results in two huge clunkers; "Let Me Go Home" and the execrable "One Good Reason", the aforementioned worst track. One is mediocre rock saved only by Bairnson's guitar, the other…um…well, I can't find anything good to say about it at all. Sorry.

The rest of the CD is pretty damn good, however. "You Don't Believe" is, of all things, a dance tune, and the Project pulls it off. "Prime Time" and "Don't Answer Me" were two great singles; the latter's Phil Spector homages still send chills down my spine. "Pipeline" is my favorite Parsons instrumental of all time, and "Dancing On A High Wire" is a brooding, complex song that bears repeated listen. In the final summary, Ammonia Avenue is a good album, but paying more attention to the Project's orchestral and progressive roots might have made it a great album.

Maybe it's for the best that the charts weren't quite as kind to Ammonia Avenue; certainly had it been more of a mainstream success, we might not have gotten to enjoy later, more experimental work like Try Anything Once, Poe, or Parsons' rumoured upcoming collaboration with the Crystal Method in electronica. (This is not a joke, folks.) On its own merits, though, Ammonia Avenue deserves a walk or two.

Rating: B+

User Rating: C-



© 2004 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arista Records, and is used for informational purposes only.