The Ultimate A To Z Of Album Reviews By Gary Steel – P

Gary Steel is slowly compiling all his album reviews in one place. This is a work in progress, or what we call a “live document”. Today is the letter ‘P’.

 

P

The Alan Parsons Project – Eve (Arista)

1979/The Evening Post

Grotesquely warted, festering female faces peer somberly through black veils on Eve. This is the fourth album by the Alan Parsons Project, following the highly successful Tales Of Mystery And Imagination, I Robot, and last year’s Pyramid.

The Project was born when Parsons, who had been the engineer on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, teamed up with composer/keyboardist/ideas-man Eric Wooleson.

The concept mercifully has little to do with the Hipgnosis-designed cover. Eve is simply about women and is essentially a selection of ably-played orthodox rock love songs.

Aside from the opening instrumental ‘Lucifer’ and the following ‘You Lie Down With Dogs’, which feature the Project’s trademarked clipped, repetitive electric piano motifs and rich orchestral flavourings, Eve is surprisingly restrained.

The ballads ‘Winding Me Up’ and ‘Secret Garden’, featuring Beach Boy-type harmonies, make for a pleasant change in their work. 6/10

 

Teddy Prendergrass – Teddy (PD)

1979/Evening Post

TP co-won best soul singer in the American Music Awards, and gets good reviews in rock magazines like Rolling Stone, but he’s just another macho stud with an oafish inexpressive voice and no songs to sing. 3/10

 

The Psychedelic Furs – The Psychedelic Furs (CBS)

1980/Evening Post

The Psychedelic Furs: contemporaries of The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and The Velvet Underground? Not likely. Their name is purposefully 1960s, but the band, as heard on their self-titled debut album, is very much Britain, circa 1980.

The psychedelic connection is evident in the spiralling, metallic guitars of John Ashton and R. Morris and in the serious (some say pretentious) group compositions, but many other influences sway the sound this way and that, usually successfully.

‘India’ begins the album on a soft, melancholy note, before racing ahead in full throttle with a jarring boom sure to send the cat screaming for the cellar. It’s a fast, frenzied dirge, with densely-textured instrumentation which, with its spacey edges, comes off as the album’s immediate all-out winner.

‘Sister Europe’, the second track and single release, comes a close second. Its bleakness is characteristic of much current British music, but unlike contemporaries The Cure, The Furs’ sound is cluttered and larger-than-life.

The bulk of the album doesn’t offer the immediate highlights of those first two songs, but conversely, the standard never falls to mere filler, either. The tone throughout is depressed, with tirades against society’s many hallowed institutions (marriage on ‘The Wedding Song’). They sometimes even stoop to (admittedly well-honed) sarcasm, as on the harmlessly-titled ‘We Love You’: “I’m in love with the factory/I’m in love with the BBC/I’m in love with the old TV/And they’re so in love with you and me.” And that’s only a sample.

My biggest doubts lie in the area of Richard Butler’s hoarse vocals – which tend to disguise lyrics which sound as though they deserve to be heard – and the use of saxophone. Its unfocussed quality tramples all over the sound where a synthesiser, perhaps, could bring some exactitude to proceedings.

Less than fully realise, but essential listening nevertheless. 8/10

 

Public Image Ltd – Metal Box/Second Edition (Virgin)

1980/In Touch

I bear a deep grudge against Metal Box. Who would want to ruin years of sweating and saving in 60 minutes and 32 seconds with the pulverisation of their stereo speakers? Who would intend to make life-long enemies of the top flat because they “can’t stand the window frames rattling – the whole house shakes”?

It’s all the more difficult when you realise how addictive this is: a daily habit.

The metal box itself could be a film canister, but more likely a pizza tray. It consists of three 12-inch 45s: an interesting but awkward concept. And at 39 bucks, the locally-pressed second edition is as good an investment. Second Edition is a double album containing the same material, a slightly reshuffled running order, a shorter running time on several tracks (by seconds only), and a minimal loss of sound quality. The package is intact and you even get the lyrics painted on the back cover.

Lack of space prevents a full dissertation. ‘Albatross’ is 10 minutes and 32 seconds of speaker cones moving like muppet mouths. The music can be a joke or deadly serious depending on your purpose and pretence, but for me it’s a lifesaver, the voice not a Rotten nor a Lydon but a sad, deep voice of rebellion echoing repression thru the aeons.

‘Memories’ is almost punk but more Beefheart than Vicious: art. ‘Swanlake’ is ‘Death Disco’ remixed and is representative of true psychedelia 1980s-style, minus all foggy-headed connotations:

“Final in a fade/What her slowly die/Saw it in her eyes/Choking in a bed/Flowers rotting dead/Words cannot express/Words cannot express/Words cannot ex…” (‘Swanlake’).

‘Poptones’ and ‘No Birds’ are both totally alienated/alienating, and therefore unpenetrable musically (at this early stage), but the latter is the most lyrically accessible track on the set.

‘Graveyard’, an instrumental, makes for agonising and concurrently blissful listening, spacious sound and diametrically intense riffing, while ‘Careering’ (we know what that’s about) turns violently in a mutated world of synthesised swirls and random screams. ‘The Suit’ is the nearest we’ll get in this new age to the Rotten of old, sneering and sarci, and is the closest yet to pretentionless avant-garde.

‘Bad Baby’ features Lydon in his inimitable vocal fashion, and ‘Socialist’, while lyrically ambiguous, sees synthesiser used in a totally complementary fashion in the present Pil context. ‘Chant’ is (I think) “mob… war… feel… hate” amongst a wash of phased drums, and the finale, ‘Radio Four’, tries for a pisstake of the awful orchestral bilge the National Programme dishes out all day, but succeeds in that it is an evocative, moving synthetic string (Peyton Place revisited) arrangement with bass (of course!) accompaniment.

PiL (John Lydon vocals, Keith Levine guitar and drums, Jah Wobble bass, and everyone on synths, effects and electronics) have made a second LP that’s more than admirable, more than simply brilliant. Instead, it’s profound music, of a kind which cancels out all possibility of adequate explanation through its sheer depth.

The difficulty in reviewing LPs such as this which exceed the norm is that words only carry one so far. There are no words for the highs that music can produce (this album evidence of such) and this is good reason why so many reviews are over-literal in content. It is music, after all.

Metal Box or Second Edition (whichever) is definitely un-easy listening, but at the same time as accessible as you want it to be. But unlike much immediate music, this grows and there’s more to discover in each listening experience.

It’d be awful to think that the best album of the ‘80s came out in November (in Britain) 1979, but it’ll take a lot of beating.

Remember tho, the words cannot express, words cannot ex… 10/10

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