In 1987, the Alan Parsons Project released Gaudi, which turned out to be their last album. Three years later, Eric Woolfson, Parsons’ longtime partner in the Project, released Freudiana, a work designed for the stage and a natural progression from the Project’s conceptual album work. The album could very much be viewed as the Project’s eleventh album since Woolfson still brought in Parsons to do production and engineering work. The album also used longtime Project players such as Ian Bairnson (guitar) and Stuart Elliott (drums) as well as vocalists John Miles, Chris Rainbow, and Graham Dye, all of whom had contributed vocals to Project albums.
All that is really just a set up to say that ”the absence of the word ‘Project’ at the end of his name makes no difference, because the music and the atmosphere on this album harbor the same mysterious effects as when it was included” (DeGagne). The aforementioned Bairnson and Elliot again lend their talents, as does Andrew Powell, who arranged conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra for the Project albums.
The largest difference between this and Project albums is the absence of Woolfson. There are a couple takes on whether this is a good or bad thing. “Woolfson was an excellent singer and a good lyricist” (Egbert), and he consequently added a punch to the Project albums that isn’t as apparent here. Just look to how well Woolfson’s talents are showcased on his 1990 Freudiana and you realize what an important contribution he made to the Project albums.
However, one can also argue that “the fact he was the lead vocalist on several of the Project's biggest hits meant Arista kept trying to make him sing, and therefore put constant pressure on the band for more soft rock hits like ‘Time’ and ‘Eye in the Sky.’ Without that pressure, Parsons [is free] to be more adventurous, more lyrical, and [craft a] deeper…multi-layered sound” (Egbert) that at least one reviewer says “bears repeated listening and exploration” (Egbert).
On a vocal level, “singers such as David Pack, Chris Thompson, Eric Stewart, and Jacqui Copland present each tune with refreshing differentiation and style” (DeGagne), making for a collection of “beautifully mastered songs that carry their own charisma” (DeGagne) “with either rich instrumentation or delicate lyrics” (DeGagne), but “no single track rises from among the others” (DeGagne).
Unlike the Project albums, “there is no overall concept strewn together on Try Anything Once” (DeGagne). ”Since his message is left for the listener to contemplate (unlike past albums that were conceptually blatant like I Robot or Pyramid), Try Anything Once breeds its own allure and intricacies” (DeGagne). “The cloudiness and uncertainty of Parsons' themes create an attraction to his thought-provoking words” (DeGagne) and “use of puzzling metaphors” (DeGagne).
While there is no obvious theme, “many of the songs touch on religion and the hope of an afterlife, like Wine from the Water and Turn It Up” (DeGagne). The latter "has a surprising edge to it, laced with Bairnson's precise guitar…there is no better proof that Ian Bairnson is underappreciated as a guitarist and a musician” (Egbert).
Only “Turn It Up” and I’m Talkin’ to You, the latter of which comes closest to feeling like the requisite single, sound like they might get a spin or two at radio, but, of course, neither did.
“An element of wonder and fascination hovers above songs like The Three of Us and Mr. Time” (DeGagne). "’Mr. Time’ is an ominous, throbbing, complex paean to death and immortality (reminiscent of ‘Can't Take It with You’ from the Project's Pyramid)” (Egbert).
“The four instrumentals – Dreamscape, Breakaway, Jigue, and Re-Jigue – add wonderment and a classical savoir faire to the album, with ‘Re-Jigue’ benefitting from the Philharmonia Orchestra” (DeGagne). As with previous Project albums, too many instrumentals can start to feel like filler (especially on 1986’s Stereotomy), but eight vocal tracks balance it out somewhat.
Parsons’ ability to craft gorgeous balladry is most evident on Siren Song and the stunning closer Oh Life, which “is in many ways a triumphant denial of [death and immortality]…Special note should go to David Pack's vocals…from a near whisper at the beginning to defiance and power at the end” (Egbert).
In the end this is “an intriguing collection of songs” (DeGagne), “hitting multiple styles and feels, weaving together a full colour picture of moments of transition and rites of passage” (Egbert). One could argue that Alan Parsons definitely continues to grow and stretch as an artist, even after all these years, but the majesty of Eric Woolfson’s Freudiana makes me wonder how much more this album could have been if the two had only decided to grow together.