Eye in the Sky
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Reviewed by Will Harris
The Project was the result of a guy who’d been best known for his production and engineering skills but who’d been writing songs on the side (Alan Parsons) teaming up with another producer/songwriter who’d been wanting to branch out beyond just writing for other people, (Eric Woolfson); from there, the pair decided to bring in a variety of outside individuals to sing on their songwriting collaborations. And what collaborations they were: the Project’s albums tended toward being concept pieces, focusing on everything from the prose and poetry of Edgar Allen Poe to the life and architecture of Antoni Gaudi, with stops in between for treatises on women, gambling, consumerism, and fame.
There’s apparently some argument as to which of the group’s albums was the most commercially successful, but it’s generally been narrowed down to a field of two: 1982’s Eye in the Sky and1984’s Ammonia Avenue. Although the latter remains in print, it has yet to receive a proper reissue via the collaborative efforts of Arista Records and Legacy Recordings (though one is, at least, penciled in for a March 2008 release), it’s the former which gets the spotlight for the purposes of this review.
Fans of the band’s more prog-influenced material often disavow the Project’s more commercial records, but Eye in the Sky holds up well beyond its extremely popular title track. Although ostensibly linked by the concept of people’s belief systems (i.e. the universal idea that there’s someone looking down on us all), the record definitely feels like a collection of individual tracks rather than a proper concept album. In this case, though, that’s not a bad thing; indeed, the probable reason for the record’s success is that listeners are provided with the opportunity to listen to any given song without feeling like they’ve missed a portion of the plot.
While “Eye in the Sky” remains the initial selling point for the disc for the band’s casual fans, many listeners may be surprised when they pop in the album and also recognize the instrumental which leads off the proceedings. “Sirius” has been utilized as theme music for both the Chicago Bulls and wrestler Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, borrowed by P. Diddy for The Saga Continues, and – for the financially-savvy Bullz-Eye readers – it can also be heard as the opening bumper music for Bob Brinker’s “Moneytalk,” on the ABC Radio Network. The pulsating instrumental leads straight into the title cut, which remains as smooth, soulful, and deeply melancholy as ever. Woolfson sings lead on “Eye in the Sky” as well as “Silence and I,” but guest vocalists on the album include Chris Rainbow (“Gemini”), Lenny Zakatek (“You’re Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned,” “Step by Step”), Elmer Gantry (“Psychobabble), former Zombies frontman Colin Blunstone (“Old and Wise”), and David Paton, late of Pilot (“Children of the Moon”).
It’s to be expected that the sweeping beauty of “Old and Wise” resulted in a reasonable-sized Adult Contemporary hit, but upon exploring the album, it’s far more mysterious that “You’re Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned” didn’t warrant a single release; though it sounds somewhat dated in 2007, it screams “top 10 hit in the early ’80s.” (It has also aged much better than “Psychobabble,” which was a hit.) Parsons takes the spotlight again during the album’s other instrumental, “Mammagamma,” and the orchestral majesty that occurs in the middle of “Silence and I” clearly owes much to his engineering skills as well.
This reissue tacks on an additional six tracks, including demos for “Sirius” and “Any Other Day,” and Eric Woolfson’s original guide vocal versions of “Old and Wise” and “Silence and I.” Fans of Parsons’ studio wizardry, however, will be most interested in the final two inclusions: “The Naked Eye” and “Eye Pieces (Classic Naked Eye)” are both medleys, each of which provide a glimpse into how the Eye in the Sky album came to fruition and what some of its portions sounded like in the early phases of construction. The liner notes for the bonus material are also particularly illuminating, providing insight from both Parsons and Woolfson.