Bringing the Past into the Future: Alan Parsons, 2019 Grammy for Best Immersive Audio Album
Driven by the technological side of music evolution, Alan Parsons created a clever re-imagining of an award-winning album.
by Ben Jacklin
Many were surprised to see Eye in the Sky awarded a Grammy win for Immersive Audio Album, but to listen to this 35th-anniversary edition, you quickly understand the plaudits it has received. Up against serial nominee Morten Lindberg (nominated twice in the 61st Grammy year alone), the winner was a clever reimagining of an album once met with a lukewarm reception from critics among commercial success.
An award that has been “driven by the technological side of music evolution” has found a perfect example in Alan Parsons’ 6th solo project, first released in 1982. The technology that was not around then has been utilized to strip this back to original mixes and rebuild and recreate a soundscape that in the 80s simply wasn’t possible.
The 5.1 mix enriches the luscious layers that Parsons is synonymous with, and instantly fills the room. In an album packed with ideas and instruments, not one sound ever strangles another out of the mix. Alan Parsons has worked as an engineer with bands like Pink Floyd and the Beatles. It is little surprise to hear him creating these sorts of balanced songs, but to be able to bind so many ideas is some skill, a skill which is aided by his clever use of this expanded, immersive audio palate.
The album sucks you in with a “prog rock” yet atmospheric start. “Sirius” is a track known for being played while the Chicago Bulls, then featuring Michael Jordan, would introduce its starting line-up through the 1990s. The rich delays and spacey guitars are hypnotic, even more so when listened to in an immersive environment. “Sirius” flows into “Eye in the Sky,” the title track, featuring vocals from Eric Woolfson. This is arguably the best-known track from the album and the closest thing to pop rock within.
What follows is a whistlestop tour of instruments, ideas, and collaborators. From the choirs used on “Gemini” to the brass and sax solo of “Old and Wise,” to the crisp drums and rich dynamics of guitars drifting to and from the foreground of the album, every new concept has space to breathe, truly living up to the “immersive” tag.
The Abbey Road recording truly takes you into the famous rooms of this recording studio, and while some have criticized the album for a lack of flow and continuity, nobody could question its gorgeous and understated mix.
On this high-resolution version of the album, 96 kHz, 24-bit audio seems to bring a balance that was perhaps slightly off in previous versions, with more of a low-end richness perfectly weighting the high-end shine.
Speaking of the award, and the process of revisiting this album, Alan Parsons beamed, “Hearing the various elements, performances, and moments of magic that were selected for the final mixes of the songs was an amazing experience…”
Parsons, who worked on Eye in the Sky with long-time collaborators Dave Donnelly and P.J. Olsson, is clearly a stickler for detail, and a vinyl reissue including a Blu-Ray disc of the immersive album, bonus tracks, and alternative mixes, is a worthwhile deep-dive for fans of his work.
About the Author
Ben is a writer and musician from the UK with a background in music technology. He writes about engineering and production, musicianship and music equipment for a number of publications including his own site, subreel.com