Tales Of Mystery And Imagination

The Alan Parsons Project

Polygram Records, 1976


REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Approaching this CD always makes me wonder if I'm to be burned at the stake for heresy. It's pretty commonly known I'm a huge fan of the work of composer/producer Alan Parsons, and of course this is the CD that is generally considered to be his greatest work. It's one of the thirty or so CDs that are de riguer for any fan of progressive rock to own. It's the only Alan Parsons CD you can still get at the Columbia Record Club, for gods' sake.

But you know what? It's not the best thing he ever did, by far.

Tales Of Mystery And Imagination is ambitious, daring, and audacious for its time. A cycle of music based on the work of American author Edgar Allan Poe, it includes a sixteen-minute suite of classical music, spoken introductions by Orson Welles (this review is based on the 1987 re-release of the album, which restored some tasty guitar licks by Ian Bairnson and the Welles spoken pieces), and some brilliant choral work.

Of course, it also has the Parsons production touch, which means unlike most progressive rock 'masterpieces' you can actually listen to it without slogging through mud. The sound is astonishingly crisp for a 1976 recording -- as Parsons himself put it in the liner notes to the 1987 version, "it is interesting to note that my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Tales was originally recorded without the use of such now commonplace items as digital reverberators and delays, drum machines, or computer assisted mixing". Given those standards, the stingingly clear sound is even more astonishing.

So, you may well ask, why do I fear burning at the stake? Simple -- despite it being held as a matter of religious faith by Projectologists and other prog-rock fans, this is only a good album, not a great one, and the fault lies directly with the music itself.

First and foremost, Stuart Tosh just isn't the drummer Stuart Elliott is. Elliott, the drummer for Parsons' various musical incarnations since Pyramid, is a bright, punchy, strong drummer. Tosh is weaker and not as impressive, and Parsons admits that one of the few changes he made in the 1987 remastering is to bring the drums out more. It helps, but not enough. If you're used to Elliott's drumming in Parsons' work, Tosh is a disappointment. To a lesser extent, the same applies to Joe Puerta's bass playing. While Puerta's work with Ambrosia was a backbone of the band, here he is no more than workmanlike.

Secondly, some of the songs just aren't that good. "The Raven" is, of course, a staple of classic rock stations everywhere. It's also kind of dull, in truth; its sole bright point is a clever use of vocoder to distort Parsons' vocal intro. I've never been able to warm to "Tell-Tale Heart," either, whether because of the sound itself or the screaming vocals of Arthur Brown (best remembered for a minor psychedelic-era hit called "Fire").

Don't get me wrong. There are high points, and a lot of them. The sixteen-minute "Fall Of The House Of Usher" is both beautiful and unpretentious, an excellent piece of classical composing. The vocal counterpoint of "(The System Of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" is one of my favorite things on the CD, and "The Cask Of Amontillado" is a beautiful piece of work. Best by far is the wistful "To One In Paradise," a suitable close to the CD.

Tales of Mystery And Imagination is a good CD, just not the great one that a lot of prog-rock aficionados would have you believe. Parsons would do better things in his career, ranging from 1980's Turn Of A Friendly Card to 1986's Stereotomy to 1999's The Time Machine. If you're a fan, it's definitely worth your while.

Rating: B

User Rating: B+



© 2000 Duke Egbert 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 Polygram Records, and is used for informational purposes only.