WITH HIS EARLY 80s "Eye in the Sky"- fueled heyday long past, Alan Parsons spent most of the '90s quietly sustaining a recording career and splitting his time between homes in England and Santa Barbara. Earlier this year, he received a troubling call. A friend phoned to ask if he'd seen Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, which included a scene in which one of Mike Meyers' characters, Dr. Evil, unveils his new time machine, which is dubbed the "Alan Parsons Project."
The Alan Parsons Live Project
Moore Theatre, Saturday, September 25
"I didn't believe it," Parsons says. "I had no idea, and nobody had contacted me to tell me that it was going to happen."
He sounds as though he's still befuddled.
"I was a little concerned to see what the context was, but in the final analysis, I'm very pleased," he says. "It's doing me a lot of good, and it's doing Mike Meyers a lot of good. So there are no losers."
Rather than settle for being a punch line, Parsons obtained the rights to use Dr. Evil's dialogue in a remix of a song from Parsons' new album—coincidentally titled The Time Machine (on Seattle's Miramar label).
Based loosely on the H.G. Wells novel of the same name, the new record mostly serves as a continuation of Parsons' cinematic music franchise. It features the type of orchestral, emotive rock that the seasoned musician and engineer has produced on a half-dozen albums in this decade alone. A rotating cast of vocalists includes Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley on the pulsating "Out of the Blue," and touring member Neil Lockwood, best known as the guy who replaced Jeff Lynne in ELO.
Parsons' name is oddly absent from the songwriting credits on The Time Machine; of the 12 tracks, he contributed just one instrumental. The majority of the record was written by Project members Ian Bairnson and Stuart Elliott. But Parsons is unfazed. "I had a busy year, so I didn't get down to doing much writing," he says. "But the process of recording is a very collaborative process. I'm not too bothered by the fact that I'm not credited with writing. I know there's me in the songs."
It'd be easy to question such logic, but keep in mind that when it comes to the recording process, few have a r鳵m頡s impressive as Parsons'. At 19, he worked as a junior engineer on the Beatles' Abbey Road and Let It Be albums. "I was fetching and carrying tapes, making tea and coffee and that kind of stuff," he recalls. "But it was obviously a great time to be there." His break was to come a few years later. In 1972, he engineered Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, the defining album of the era and a landmark in rock's studio sound. As a result, he went on to become an in-demand producer—he recorded the Scottish band Pilot's soft-rock hit "Magic"—and by the mid-'70s, an artist in his own right.
Parsons teamed with an old Abbey Road co-worker, songwriter Eric Woolfson, to transform Edgar Allen Poe's poems into songs, leading to the Alan Parson Project's 1976 debut, Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The partnership continued through albums such as I Robot and Pyramid, which both emulated the gaudy progressive rock sound of the times and pioneered the use of the studio in sculpting records. At the turn of the decade, the Project fit the mood of a transitioning society, hitting a stride with 1981's The Turn of a Friendly Card—which featured the Top-10 hit "Games People Play"—and the smash follow-up Eye in the Sky.
"It was just good timing," Parsons recollects. "That was the fashionable time for progressive rock. Concept albums were all the rage. Bands like Yes and the Floyd, Genesis, early Police. That kind of stuff was doing well."
OF COURSE, THIS isn't the type of stuff that's popular today, although bands such as King Crimson, Yes, and others continue to tour off nostalgia, occasionally releasing albums that matter only to diehard fans. But the art-damaged rock of the '70s still has an audience, and for artists like Parsons, there's no reason not to cash in. A pragmatist, he readily admits to favoring his new material, but he's quick to admit that audiences who attend his Project's forthcoming shows will hear the hits.
Still, one wonders why a guy with a rich past and the type of name recognition that can draw laughs for its retro connotations would want to venture away from the comforts of his two homes.
"It's all very well resting on laurels," Parsons notes. "But my bank manager doesn't think I should do so. I had a heyday in the early '80s, but I'm still happy to be doing what I love. I still enjoy it enormously, and even if I didn't need the money, I'd see no reason to give it up."