"It was an album made under pressure," Parsons says of "Defence" -- which was recorded and shelved over 30 years ago. Listen to two of the sparse instrumentals here first
Back in 1981, the Alan Parsons Project and Arista Records were locked in tense contract negotiations that weren't going anywhere -- at least to the liking of Parsons and his late partner Eric Woolfson. That gave birth to "The Sicilian Defence," a not-so-subtly titled kiss-off album designed to fulfill contractual obligations and subsequently shelved when the two parties came to terms.
Listen to a pair of tracks from the set:
Though one track, "Elsie's Theme," was released as a bonus track on a reissue of the APP's "Eve," "The Sicilian Defence" gets its first-ever release on March 31 as part of "The Alan Parsons Project -- The Complete Albums Collection" box set. And Parsons tells Billboard he has mixed feelings about it.
"I'm happy that it's fulfilling a need to document, historically, the entire catalog of the Alan Parsons project, but it's not our finest hour by any stretch of the imagination," Parson says of the sparse, piano-dominated 10-song instrumental set. "It was an album made under pressure. It doesn't have the polish or finesse that all the albums that were released previously had. It's really not up to the standard of the real Project albums."
But, adds Parsons -- who was "blissfully absent" from the negotiations with the label, letting Woolfson handle things -- "The Sicilian Defence" wasn't merely a musical middle finger to Arista, either. "We just wanted to get it done," he explains. "It was made in a hurry. it took three days, and that was a very small amount of time compared with the sometimes three or four months we might have spent making a proper album. 'The Sicilian Defense' is the title of a tactical move in the game of chess, but there was a real game of tactics going on in a very real sense with Eric and the label. Like I said, it's an interesting piece of history."
The rest of "The Complete Albums Collection" houses the APP's other 10 albums, including the platinum titles "I Robot," "The Turn of A Friendly Card" and "Eye in the Sky." Parsons -- who made his name as a studio engineer for the Beatles, Pink Floyd and others before starting the APP -- says that he appreciated "the chance to revisit and improve on the previous versions of the CDs," while the collected works also remind listeners of a time when the producer as artist was a novel idea.
"I suppose some of Phil Spector's work could be considered as producer's albums, but I don't think any producer had ever put his own name on a concept album, and that's what we wanted to do," Parsons recalls. "We wanted to take the fashionability of making concept albums back in the mid-70s and take it to the production level rather than to the artist level and use an infinitely variable set of assets. We could use any rhythm section we wanted to, any instrumentalists we wanted to. We chose to have a large variety of vocal talent on the albums. No two consecutive songs ever had the same singer; that's something no artist could ever wish for."
Though Woolfson passed away in 2009, Parsons has kept the group going as both a recording and concert concern. The Alan Parsons Live Project is currently in South America and has U.S. dates booked for May in San Francisco and at Disney World's Epcot Center in Florida, with more to come according to Parsons. The group recently released a new single called "Fragile" along with a downloadable live album. More material is around, Parsons says, though he's trying to figure out what to do with it at the moment. "It's got the makings of a new album," he says. "We've actually got three or four candidates for an album now -- but what's an album in this download world? It's quite different now than it was in the 70s. So we're thinking about putting out a full-blown album, but for the moment we're concentrating on live stuff."