The Turn Of A Friendly Card

The Alan Parsons Project

Arista Records, 1980

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


As much as I love some of the music that the Alan Parsons Project put out when it was together, I've always found it difficult to uncover the hidden messages of their albums. Each album was based on a theme, with all the songs intertwined to hammer home a point.

It's been a while since I last dusted off one of their albums in the Pierce Archive. Maybe it was seeing how bad I've been doing in the staff NCAA pool (special thanks to Kansas for effectively killing my chances with their loss on Sunday) that drove me towards their 1980 album The Turn Of A Friendly Card. Remembered for two songs, it contains one of their more confusing and disturbing -- albeit true -- messages about life.

Of course, the theme of this album is chance -- you can guess that by the image of a stained glass playing card on the cover. But the actual theme is well above the notion of gambling. Instead, it appears to be how we look at life, especially the hand we've been dealt, and what chances lie ahead of us if we're willing to take some risks. The end result might be worse than what we originally had, but that's the price we pay for taking such a risk.

In a sense, that's what's disturbing to me about the theme of The Turn Of A Friendly Card -- the fact that this is so true. Dennis Miller said it best in a rant about the homeless in America -- we realize that the person we see rummaging through the garbage can could be us; many of these people have received one too many bad breaks in their lives. Why them and not us we may never understand.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Let's see, where was I... oh, yes, the music. After the lead-in provided by "May Be A Price To Pay," vocalist Lenny Zakatek brings us radio hit number one "Games People Play"; in this, our hero makes the conscious decision to walk away from the life he's been leading to try and find something different. This departure is captured in radio hit number two, "Time," sung by Eric Woolfson. A definite ballad, this is one that immediately tugs on the heart strings, and stays with you for a long time. There's a reason this song became so popular -- it could be one of the Alan Parsons Project's best numbers.

But no sooner has our hero left his old life behind when the voice of reason kicks in on "I Don't Wanna Go Home." This also could be the voice of doubt -- you take your pick: "You can't win you damn fool / You drank all the wine from the cup / And your painted lady's gone now / And you're way back on teh downside, Lookin' up." As our hero realizes his plight, he decides not to return to his past - possibly because he can't face ridicule on his return.

Following the brief instrumental "The Gold Bug," we're presented with the suite "The Turn Of A Friendly Card". With the "introduction" of the title song (part one), our hero continues to press his luck, if only to return to what he used to be on "Snake Eyes." And although he thinks luck is about to come his way, he eventually hits rock bottom with a deafening thud... which leads us to "Nothing Left To Lose." On this number, the realization finally comes to him, and he is left with a clean slate to start his life again: "You read the book you turn the page / You change your life in a thousand ways / The dawn of reason lights in your eyes / With the key you realise / To the kingdom of the wise." A reprise of the title track concludes the tale.

As powerful as the story and the lyrics are on The Turn Of A Friendly Card, the music does not always live up to the same expectations. Sure, some of the performances are wonderful, and the whole album has the unique feel of a Parsons production. But in one sense, the magic that was found on albums like Pyramid is lacking here.

Still, this is an album that is worth checking out -- as well as listening to closely. Something tells me that people will pull different messages from this one than the one I have outlined -- and unless Mr. Parsons happens to be reading and wishes to add his two cents to the discussion, we might never really know what the true message is on The Turn Of A Friendly Card.

Rating: B-

User Rating: A



© 1998 Christopher Thelen 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.