Musical history is littered with artists who at some point in their careers thought it would be a wise idea to revamp their sound. Usually, this move meets with loyalists crying “sellout” as their favorite band moves to a more commercial sound.
Alan Parsons manages to revamp his sound in such a way as to disappoint loyalists while simultaneously not selling out. Any cries of sellout would be levied at Parsons during the mid-eighties, when he was at his commercial peak, and not at anything he’s done since the Alan Parsons Project disintegrated in 1987. “If [1985’s] Vulture Culture is what Alan produced under pressure to be a chart-topping artist, A Valid Path is what Alan produced when he wanted to just go have some fun” (Egbert).
This album is Parsons’ attempt to stretch himself musically. “Recorded without longtime bandmates Ian Bairnson and Stuart Elliott, A Valid Path is really Parsons's first solo album. A la Santana, nearly every track is a collaboration” (Herlin) as Parsons steers away from a lifetime career in progressive rock in favor of electronica. One could see the leanings on 1999’s The Time Machine, but wouldn’t expect Parsons to have gone full tilt. You have to give him credit – if you’re going electronica, bring in some heavy hitters. “Parsons's guest list is a veritable ‘who's who’ of electronica (Shpongle, The Crystal Method, Nortec Collective, Uberzone) (Herlin).
Electronica brings out tendencies evident throughout Parsons’ musical career. He definitely likes instrumentals and views vocals merely as another interchangeable instrument; depending on the feel you are after, you bring in a singer to match it. This latter approach resulted in some 40 guest vocalists on Parsons’ product over the years – many of them interesting, but practically none of them household names as successful solo artists.
Parsons stubborn reliance on instrumental pieces can come across as lazy, like he just didn’t want to bother with vocals on those songs. That would make this the laziest album of Parsons’ career. At only nine tracks, it is a bit startling to grace only three with vocals. It doesn’t help that two of the instrumentals are rehashes of earlier Parsons’ work, even though Alan’s son Jeremy “proves himself a formidable programmer” (Herlin) on both; Mammagamma '04 “works better stylistically here than it did in its classic presentation on [1982’s] Eye in the Sky” (Herlin), but A Recurring Dream Within a Dream, which combines “A Dream Within a Dream” and “The Raven” from the Project’s 1976 debut Tales of Mystery and Imagination, is “a distracting detour from the more ‘valid path’ of new compositions” (Herlin).
The album isn’t a complete wash. “The production and engineering is without peer, as always” (Egbert). Parsons’ electronica foray actually makes for “parts of this album that are downright danceable. Funky, even” (Egbert).
To tempt us into thinking he hasn’t completely given up on prog-rock, we have “David Gilmour…on the opening track, Return to Tunguska, to link back to the days when Parsons produced Pink Floyd” (Egbert).
“Parsons remains the driving creative force behind every track, even assuming lead vocal and guitar duties for We Play the Game” (Herlin), a Crystal Method collaboration which features a great ”drum groove and haunting vocals” (Egbert).
More Lost Without You, "is a straight-ahead pop song with an electronica sheen on it” (Egbert). That song and You Can Run feature “P. J. Olsson and David Pack, respectively [and] combine elements of rock/pop with electronica to great effect” (Herlin).
Tijuanic is “an interesting mix of electronica and mariachi (something Nortec Collective is known for), with some microtonal glissandi thrown in for color” (Herlin).
”The triumphant and tribal Chomolungma, the CD's close, [is] a powerful, percussion-laden work of art” (Egbert). It includes “a John Cleese cameo that will delight Monty Python fans, and a fun reference to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds" (Herlin).
A Valid Path is, indeed, a different path for Parsons. But it's a path where his peers seem to respect him, he seems to be having fun, and he produces some intriguing, groovy work” (Egbert). Still, it isn’t enough. Faithful Parsons’ fans may stick by him, but this is one of his weakest efforts as he tries too hard to steer himself in a new musical direction.