well-orchestrated progressive rock

Try Anything Once (Arista)
Alan Parsons

By Allen Howie

Alan Parsons has been compared to a film director, an appropriate analogy for a producer whose gift is to match music with musicians, then guide the proceedings every step of the way to produce one unified work that showcases the diverse talents of all concerned. It's a knack that this newest album, his first in six years, finds fully engaged.

Parsons scores something of a coup on the new record, coaxing a trio of renowned vocalists into the studio: Chris Thompson, formerly of Manfred Mann's Earth Band, David Pack, last heard leading Ambrosia, and Eric Stewart of 10cc. Add veterans of the Alan Parsons Project and guests like Duran Duran's Jacqui Copland, plus Parsons' always-pristine sonics, and you have the makings of a solid album.

Things begin with Pack singing lead on "The Three of Me," full of the epic grandeur and elegant flourishes that have become Parsons' hallmark. To invoke a sense of majesty without sounding overblown has always been the secret of success in the progressive rock arena, and nobody does it better than Parsons.

Thompson handles lead vocals on "Turn It Up," alternating between the open spaces of each verse and the song's churning chorus. "Wine from the Water," with Stewart behind the microphone, recalls Parsons' earlier hit, "Psychobabble" without sounding like a retread, then Copland takes a dreamy turn on the ethereal "Mr. Time."

Pack returns with a vengeance on the potent rocker, "I'm Talkin' to You," a performance Stewart matches on the mostly acoustic ballad, "Siren Song," a tune that would sound right at home on a Moody Blues album. Thompson kicks in a gritty vocal on the bluesy grind of "Back Against the Wall."

The album's closing track finds Pack turning in a stirring vocal on the sweeping "Oh Life (There Must Be More)." In fact, there is more, for among all these songs lie four instrumentals written by Parsons, which rise far above "art-rock" noodling and stand as engaging compositions in their own right.

Alan Parsons may never sing a note on any of his records, but his ability to draw powerful performances from an eclectic group of musicians and bind it all together with his signature sound should be more than enough. Try his latest once, and you'll find yourself coming back for more.