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I first played Lonely Robot’s debut album without any knowledge of the band, and was quickly struck by similarities with another British band, Frost*. As it turns out, Lonely Robot is the new project masterminded by producer, guitarist and vocalist John Mitchell (also of It Bites and Arena), who played guitar and sang for Frost*. But this isn’t to say that this project is a copy of that band, as it definitely has its own identity.
Backed by Nick Beggs on bass and Craig Blundell on drums, the album also features guest appearances from Peter Cox (Go West), Nik Kershaw, Steve Hogarth (Marillion), Heather Findlay, Kim Seviour (Touchstone), Jem Godfrey (Frost*) as well as narration (on the track “The Boy in the Radio”) provided by British actor Lee Ingleby (Master & Commander, Harry Potter). The songs are based around the science-fiction ideas of alien origins for mankind. “The concept is about the way in which some ancient civilisations – for instance, the Mayans, the Egyptians and the Chinese – had technology way beyond what they should have had at the time.”, Mitchell says. “And I’m talking about the millennium up to 1000 AD. It’s as if some people had been transplanted onto the planet from another world and time.” The name of the project wasn’t chosen arbitrarily either. “(Lonely Robot) represents the human condition. I’m not suggesting that human beings behave like robots, but so many people lead regimented lives and it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and not realise or know how to get out of it.”
So with Mitchell handling all the writing and most of the instruments, and with no expectations of the outcome, we get an album that, while it can surely be described as prog rock, is more focused on atmosphere than technicality. It has a lot of pop sensibilities with great melodies throughout, spacious arrangements and delicate piano moments, and Mitchell’s trademark soaring guitar solos punctuate these splendidly. This isn’t space rock though: it is finely crafted songs with little excess weight. There are no self-indulgent instrumental sections: it’s all dedicated to making the songs work. A song like “The Boy in the Radio” (featuring vocals from 80’s pop duo Go West’s Peter Cox) could easily be a hit single if radio stations were a little adventurous instead of feeding us the corporate playlist.
This is an album that’s hard to describe well. Calling it progressive rock will turn off some people who might imagine long, convoluted song structures, and calling it pop rock shortchanges the great musicianship and haunting atmosphere that permeates these songs. In the end, it is what it is: an excellent album full of rich imagery, both sonically and lyrically. And I like it a little bit more every time I play it.
2. God Vs. Man
3. The Boy In The Radio
4. Why Do We Stay?
5. Lonely Robot
6. A Godless Sea
9. Are We Copies?
10. Humans Being
11. The Red Balloon
He's also a regular contributor at the excellent news site Montreal Rampage