Shortly after the dissolution of The Alan Parsons Project in 1990, the titular producer and songwriter went “solo.” Releasing under his name sans Project, Alan Parsons has essentially recreated the work he did in the 1970s and ’80s, both in sound and collaboration structure. The prog/pop/soft rock aesthetic the Project traded in has continued across the six albums Parsons has released in the 29 years since 1993. And as with TAPP, the musician mostly serves in the capacity of producer for his records, bringing in other songwriters and vocalists in a way that the term “solo career” belies. Strikingly, Parsons has continued the sound of the Project (I’ve actually ranked their stuff already) to great effect into the 21st century and advanced age, rarely veering from what made his name synonymous with a certain style of satisfying cheese.
#6 — TRY ANYTHING ONCE (1993)
Favorite track: “Siren Song”
That being said, it is ironically Parsons’ closest release to the Project that is his weakest. TRY ANYTHING ONCE was mostly a Parsons songwriting joint. But as with some albums to follow, it was also a creative pursuit for guitarist Ian Bairnson, a core member of TAPP and credited writer on about half of the tracks on Parsons’ debut solo album. So yeah, as much as anything to come, TRY ANYTHING ONCE sounds like something from the Project…albeit something from that later era of the Project, their weakest and one that dips into softer malaise than satisfying prog escalation. With vocals from 10cc’s Eric Stewart, “Siren Song” is the standout track on the album, which is satisfyingly dreamy. But much of the rest of TRY ANYTHING ONCE is kind of similar, making it the least impressive of Parsons’ solo albums.
#5 — A VALID PATH (2004)
Favorite track: “More Lost Without You”
A VALID PATH is Parsons’ most prog-y record, but it’s also the one that literally owes the most to his Project days. The album mostly noodles in his atmospheric mode, rather than the tight pop hook one that Parsons was also capable of writing and producing. One of the couple concessions is “More Lost Without You” (vocals by P.J. Olsson), one of the best tracks from Parsons’ solo career and an evocation of early 2000s’ singer-songwriter hooks with the spacey arrangement you could expect. But the rest of the album gets looser, and indeed, it remixes and messes with prior Project songs, such as “Mammagamma 04,” a remix of EYE IN THE SKY’s (1982) “Mammagamma,” and “A Recurring Dream Within A Dream,” a blending of “A Dream Within a Dream” and “The Raven” from TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION (EDGAR ALLAN POE) . This reliance on previous works doesn’t totally handicap A VALID PATH, but it certainly makes it feel a little less special, although its couple of pop tracks and the general atmosphere of its new prog compositions make it an enjoyable listen.
#4 — THE TIME MACHINE (1999)
Favorite track: “No Future in the Past”
The cover art for THE TIME MACHINE is the most 1999 thing ever, looking like the interface for some PC adventure game or something. It’s, like, bad, but also over-the-top in a way I really like. And that kind of describes the album it holds (minus the bad thing, I guess), which revisits the overt lyrical and thematic concept premise that defined many Project albums. THE TIME MACHINE’s reckoning with theories of time isn’t exactly the most salient thing. And the music through which its message is communicated leans closer to cheese than much of the rest of Parsons’ records. But the album, which is almost entirely a Bairnson songwriting joint (Parsons essentially acted as a producer with one short instrumental songwriting credit), can hit soaring and compelling choruses and notes. That’s most evident on “No Future in the Past” (although that comes from writer Stuart Elliott), a pretty rocking and grooving song with vocals from Neil Lockwood. Overall, THE TIME MACHINE provides enough of a space-bending sound to warrant discovery.
#3 — ON AIR (1996)
Favorite track: “Blue Blue Sky” [closer]
Like THE TIME MACHINE, predecessor ON AIR also explicitly deals with a lyrical and thematic concept (and it too has a cover that could be a ‘90s computer screensaver). Dealing with the history of human flight, the record is also primarily a Bairnson joint, with his name the sole or co-writer on every track. Fittingly, the album is airy and light, but thankfully it never really evaporates into malaise. ON AIR is able to balance its atmospheric intentions, from relaxing to groovy. “Blue Blue Sky” [closer] is my favorite track, and I have to include that bracket because there is no title distinction between the short opener and the full song that closes out the album. Nevertheless, it’s a sweet and emotional ditty, sung beautifully by Stewart. And that can represent much of ON AIR, which never digs into something really vital, but constantly envelops with its soft sound.
#2 — FROM THE NEW WORLD (2022)
Favorite track: “You Are the Light”
Color me surprised that a 2022 Alan Parsons album, his latest at the time of this writing and the impetus for this piece, is actually quite good. In a bold move, FROM THE NEW WORLD sounds like it came straight out of the late 1970s, early 1980s heyday of the Project. I’ve yet to decipher exactly how the songwriting credits and such break down for the record, but however Parsons orchestrated it or personally contributed to it, FROM THE NEW WORLD ironically remains in an old-fashioned yet satisfying pocket. It’s defined by a soft sound that escalates into groovier and more jangly tones in its songs’ choruses, as on personal favorite “You Are the Light.” But the whole of the thing moves with a smooth verve that is surprisingly fun and, well, plain ol’ good, in the very way that The Alan Parsons Project was good. Although FROM THE NEW WORLD is not quite the best thing to come out of Parsons’ solo career, it comes close with its attention to timeless pop hooks and old-school prog and soft rock sounds.
#1 — THE SECRET (2019)
Favorite track: “One Note Symphony”
Coming after the biggest gap between solo releases for Parsons (it had been nearly 15 years since 2004’s A VALID PATH), THE SECRET fits into a classic “comeback” definition, as it has emerged as the best thing he’s done outside of his titular Project. It’s somewhat of a marvel because I don’t know how many musicians known for their 1970s and ’80s heights, especially ones so tied to that time like Parsons, are turning out some of their best work in the 2010s and ’20s. And yet here is Parsons with THE SECRET, an eclectic album perhaps made such by the broader array of songwriters and vocalists present. There’s no Bairnson shepherding the process (although he does contribute a couple of guitar solos), or of course Eric Woolfson, perhaps the real creative force behind The “Alan Parsons” Project. But Parsons is a co-writer on all of the songs, and what the album is able to accomplish is the communication of an epic scale and mysticism. His fifth album gets soft and ethereal, grand and sweeping and electronic (as on personal favorite “One Note Symphony”), satisfyingly rocky, and generally cheesy. But ultimately, THE SECRET’s quality is cemented by killer choruses, which blend timeless pop hooks and melodies with a prog instinct of yesteryear, making it an excellent example of the potential of late career greatness and the best solo album from Alan Parsons.