By titling its new release “Fragile,” the Alan Parsons Project has developed a partial solution to the problem that confronts still-active classic rock performers: how to remain relevant. That single word is quite fitting for the modern age, which has added to the history of the world cyber-terrorism, climate change, widespread government surveillance of personal phone calls and e-mails, and predator drones.
Without naming any specific threats, the lyrics of “Fragile” evoke our daily unease, asking what seems to be a higher power to help us understand “how fragile we are.” No answer is forthcoming.
The contemporary message is backed by a sound that is not far removed from what the APP committed to record at the time of its breakthrough in the second half of the 1970s. The song opens with two lovely, sustained keyboard notes followed by the soft strum of chords on an acoustic guitar.
To this soothing introduction, “Fragile” adds the signature sound of big drums and powerful electric guitar.
The listener is now on the familiar turf of the standard rock ballad, circa 1977. Thankfully, the APP eschews the bombast and histrionics that made many of these efforts from other bands sound utterly ridiculous.
P. J. Olsson’s moving and sincere vocals provide “Fragile” with an unexpected emotional depth. Clocking in at just under four minutes, much shorter than many of the group’s familiar hits, “Fragile” ranks with the best of the Alan Parsons Project from its golden period of 1977–1987.
Along with “Fragile,” the group has just released a 2-CD live set, on the MFP label, which was recorded in Stuttgart, Germany, last year. Students of the Project will know that it never performed live during the years the group had all those hits. That’s the way it goes when you rotate musicians from album to album.
Not until the 1990s, when it performed for an appreciative audience at a gig in Hamburg, the same city that meant so much to the Beatles some 30 years earlier, did the bandleader himself decide that touring wasn’t so bad after all.
Since then, he and his various “groups” have played venues around the globe. A CD/DVD was released several years ago of a concert the band gave in Madrid in 2004.
The newest effort, “Live Span,” features 22 songs, a mixture of chart hits and familiar tracks. We are reminded with “Live Span” that Parsons began his career as an audio engineer, working on “Abbey Road,” “Let it Be,” and “Dark Side of the Moon,” among others. Whether slow ballads, mid-tempo rock, or art-funk, the sound is uncluttered and warm.
The entire collection reminded me of sitting in an outdoor amphitheater, hearing live music on a cool, mid-summer Southern California night. I’ve never been to Stuttgart, but perhaps it’s possible to experience something similar there.
For new and longtime fans, “Live Span” is the ideal introduction and reintroduction to the virtues of the Alan Parsons Project. At the very least, the versions of “I Robot,” “I Wouldn’t Want to be Like You,” “Psychobabble,” and the rest compare favorably to the originals.
On “Live Span,” this latest version of the group comes across as energetic, engaged, and even joyful. The group performs as if the Alan Parsons Project’s best days lie ahead. Some old soldiers don’t die or fade away but simply continue on as if nothing has changed.