Treading into the realm of soft prog rock, the fifth studio album from The Alan Parsons Project, The Turn of A Friendly Card, is ripe for a revisit. It may be the most enduring release from the band, and it sounds amazing in a new reissue box set from the English niche label, Cherry Red.
Originally released in November 1980, The Turn of a Friendly Card was an international chart success. Conceptually, the album is both bleak and beautiful, mixing imagery of gambling and casinos with lyrics about deteriorating relationships. It’s pretty heavy stuff overall. Despite the relatively depressing subject matter, the singles from The Turn of a Friendly Card, like “Games People Play” and “Time,” found their way into heavy rotation on FM radio. In the US alone, The Turn of a Friendly Card sold over one million copies.
“Games People Play” is a highlight of the album, and one of the band’s most familiar tunes. With an arpeggiated synth riff providing the song’s backbone, vocalist Lenny Zakatek provides a grim picture of empty nest syndrome, growing older, and wondering if anyone in the world still cares about you.
With lead vocals by Eric Woolfson, the dreamy ballad “Time” deals with meetings and departures, the hope and deception of memory. It’s a great tune with creepy lyrics accompanied by beautiful music, a funereal ballad you can dance to.
The second half of the album is taken up by the title track which, in true prog rock tradition, is broken up into five separate songs. An exploration of the desperation of gambling and the belief that Lady Luck will eventually smile upon you infuse these tracks. It isn’t difficult to find thematic callbacks in the gambling tunes to the songs about the destruction of relationships that dominate the first half. There’s always a risk, isn’t there? Whether its intrapersonal relationships or a game of blackjack, there’s a chance you’ll wind up a winner. There’s also the possibility that you lose it all.
For an album that some would classify as easy listening, there’s nothing easy about The Turn of a Friendly Card.
The box set allows listeners to gain insight into the creation of the album. Disc two takes a deep dive into the creation of the album with tracks from Eric Woolfson’s songwriting diary. It’s a disc filled with ideas not quite formed. Most of these bare-bones tracks would wind up being fully fleshed out for the album. Those with a penchant for songwriting may be interested to hear the genesis for these classic tunes before they reached their final form in the studio.
The third disc features bonus tracks from the recording of The Turn of a Friendly Card. Songs are presented in various states of completion, most of them instrumental or with backing vocals only. These tracks highlight the beauty and heart of the music, the precision of the arrangements. Particularly interesting is the version of “Games People Play” with a guide vocal from Woolfson. His singing is buried in the mix, allowing the music to shine through.
More than forty years after its initial release, The Turn of a Friendly Card remains a powerful album, filled with memorable songs and strong lyrics. It deserves a place in the collection of anyone into classic rock or prog outliers. The bonus discs on the Cherry Red re-issue highlight the creative process and impart a new appreciation for music that may already be familiar to listeners. It’s a worthwhile release, and if it helps new fans to discover The Alan Parsons Project, then all the better.
The Turn of a Friendly Card can be ordered from Cherry Red and wherever fine music is sold.