Ammonia Avenue finds the Alan Parsons Project at their final peak as a band.
Pairing pop schmaltz with concepts ranging from Edgar Allan Poe to the architectural prowess of Antoni Gaudí via Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics, the Alan Parsons Project has always occupied a rather niche position in the extended prog rock family. Broadening the producer’s cultural legacy beyond a stint as an assistant engineer at Abbey Road Studios, Parsons’ 15-year partnership with Eric Woolfson yielded a sense of novelty, one that was often diabolic, at times over-wrought but never dull.
Yet despite credits on the Beatles’ Let It Be and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, Parsons didn’t quite reach such classic record echelons through his own artistic endeavors. His namesake project, forged from a chance meeting with Woolfson in the mid ‘70s, perhaps never genuinely aimed for revered status. A creative purity certainly is discernible, the duo’s investment in the musicianship and narrative material particularly evident when the layers of production polish are sheared away, as they are to a significant extent on this limited edition re-release.
Even by the standards of 1984, Ammonia Avenue would have felt like somewhat of a throwback, proving far more passable as a staple of ‘70s MOR radio, in its reliably inoffensive yacht-rock mindset. The usual roster of guest vocalists, in the form of mainstays Chris Rainbow and the Zombies’ Colin Blunstone, continue to lend a familiar degree of adult contemporary appeal, but even this remains very much out of step with the sleek synth-soaked fare that dominated elsewhere in the mid-‘80s charts. Parsons and Woolfson hadn’t, however, ventured into the sprawling instrumental pomp favored by bands such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The breakthrough traction of Eye in the Sky and I Robot’s disco-tinged tendencies had promised some semblance of the outfit adapting to changing tastes, but it wouldn’t be until Gaudi, in 1987, that the pair would conform more assuredly to the decade’s trends. The record’s controlling theme, revolving around misunderstanding shared between industrial science and the general population, does still stand as particularly prescient in the current age, where public mistrust in authority and expertise seems to thrive.
Presented with a remastered stereo mix, disc one sees the original album delivered in its entirety, alongside seven bonus tracks previously included on the 2008 remaster. “Prime Time” and international hit “Don’t Answer Me”, a nimble homage to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound method, remain firm highlights; both tracks finding APP at the top of their game, while “Dancing on a High Wire” and “You Don’t Believe” help to maintain momentum. Woolfson’s diaries and studio outtakes form the basis of the additional second and third discs respectively; both showcasing the building blocks of the two-piece’s songwriting process. Shorn of the surface gloss, notably on the second disc, the raw vitality of Woolfson’s vocals reveal a visceral edge excised from the sanitized finished product. This stark divergence really does prove an illuminating example of appended content that, rather than verging on excess, succeeds in supporting a sense of context surrounding the album’s development.
Ammonia Avenue finds the Alan Parsons Project at their final peak as a band, an entry that along with its predecessor and The Turn of a Friendly Card resulted in notable crossover success in the early ‘80s. The original record itself unfolds with expected pristine clarity, whereas the extra two discs offer considerable insight into APP’s regimen, particularly Woolfson’s diary segments; bolstering a reissue that doesn’t feel completely like an unwarranted cash-grab.