Thursday, January 18, 2018

APP.3 - Turn of a Friendly Card

Turn of a Friendly Card (AM8): The basic idea of Turn of a Friendly Card as a conceptual work about gambling seemed a little dated (corny) by 1980, yet Parsons's basic idea for 'The Project' - combining pop music with the orchestral on the basis of well-crafted songwriting - was more evident on this work than on any of previous APP albums. Again, this is not your average rock album, far from it, but a simple way to augment one's fascination with high fidelity. The album has a ton of great hooks and even the instrumentals ("The Gold Bug," "The Ace Of Swords") never bore. The Turn of a Friendly Card remains The Alan Parsons Project's definitive masterpiece and should not be missed in the collection of any true music-lover/audiophile.

Inspired by gambling - or perhaps, more broadly, by the relationship between chance and destiny - Friendly Card is a beautifully crafted, inspired concept album where the total exceeds the sum of the parts. There are great individual contributions here - Ian Bairnson's guitar work and Chris Rainbow's sublime vocals, to name but two - but the overall cohension of the album is superb under the inspired guidance of Parsons, Eric Woolfson and Andrew Powell.
Though it includes some catchy melodies throughout (it's a pretty hook-y album, along the lines of a Broadway musical), the heart of the album is the "Turn of a Friendly Card" suite. This is one of the a crowning achievements in the prog rock pantheon, despite its accessibility, and fits perfectly alongside Close to the Edge, Thick as a Brick and Selling England By the Pound. Unlike a lot of the progressive canon, it sounds just as good today. Described as "Pink Floyd with ADD" the album gets an AM8 for exactly the same reason it succeeds: the production is so stodgy that the players don't get to play.  Had the concept and production been paired down and Ian Bairnson just been aloud to jam, Turn of a Friendly Card may have been an AM9.  

Many were disconcerted with the lack of concept for 1982's Eye in the Sky (AM6), but this would become APP's biggest success. What was sacrificed in the form of conceptual cohesion was more than compensated with Woolfson's songcraft, Andrew Powell's orchestral arrangements, and a myriad of outstanding vocal performances. "Sirius" of course would go on to be Alan Parsons' most familiar tune, despite not being his best instrumental.  Another solid album from the most prolific and successful period of The Project. Finally there's Ammonia Avenue (AM7). The usual APP themes of alienation, disbelief and loss play varying roles in most of Ammonia Avenue's songs, making this the Project's moodiest LP. Production values are, as usual, impeccable, and the instrumentation imparts a silken, surreal feel. This is a great album to play at night, a New Age album, when you're by yourself and the house is quiet.