I find that some albums worm their way into your affections. On first listen it may not resonate with you and you file it away for further investigation, then, after another coat of ‘looking at’, something clicks and it all starts to make sense. To be fair, the majority of my favourite albums have entered my inner sanctum that way and they then stake a claim for longevity. Maybe it is the time I invest into each of these more complex releases, who knows?
On the flipside, there are some records that you can appreciate immediately, they have an instant wow factor that makes you smile and eulogise upon forthwith. I say this with a huge hint of caution though because, in some cases, these albums then fade away into relative obscurity, rarely to be played again. I don’t know why this is the case but it does seem to happen quite a lot and, I can say from experience, there are not many albums in my inner sanctum that were held in immediate esteem.
You know I get to the point eventually, in this case I have been listening a lot to Lonely Robot’s debut release ‘Please Come Home’ and I must admit that, from the first time I pressed ‘play’, I was sold on its melodic brilliance and catchy, pop infused hooks and riffs. Would its openness and ease of listening prove to be its ultimate downfall though? I’ll get to that eventually but, first, a little background on Lonely Robot………
It is no secret that the mastermind behind the Lonely Robot project is none other than musician, vocalist, songwriter and producer John Mitchell. John says he has never done anything like this before but, not to belittle anything he has done before, it was the most fun he’s ever had in the studio.
Mitchell states that this project was a clean slate with no particular expectations and, musically, it is very ‘proggy’ but more about atmosphere than technical expertise. Most of the instrumental performances and vocals are handled by John himself but he has lined up a veritable ‘who’s who’ of prog talents to guest on it.
Craig Blundell does all the drums and Steve Hogarth (Marillion) plays piano on two tracks as opposed to his accustomed role as a vocalist (although he does contribute some backing vocals), Kim Seviour of Touchstone fame duets on Oubliette with John and Heather Findlay joins him on vocals on Why Do We Stay.
Perhaps a surprise inclusion is Go West’s Peter Cox whose distinctive voice is heard doing the lead on The Boy In The Radio. One of my all time favourite eighties stars Nik Kershaw provides the solo for Humans Being, Nick Beggs adds his bass and signature Chapman Stick and John’s long time friend and fellow Frost* band mate Jem Godfrey contributes his unique style to a couple of tracks including the title Lonely Robot.
Atmospheric narration is provided by renowned English character actor Lee Ingleby, his role was to link everything together to the overall album theme of how some ancient civilisations seemed to have technology way beyond what was feasible at the time.
So, John says the album is like nothing he has done before, let’s dip a toe in the metaphorical water and see whether his robot does actually deserve to be lonely….
The opening track on the album is a powerful instrumental. Airlock draws you in with its slightly sinister introduction before exploded into a pulsating, dynamic piece with a resonating piano note always in the background grabbing your attention. This incendiary track is measured and uniform before a coruscating guitar note idles in, all malevolent and ominous. The pace is lifted before the track comes to a close with a soundtrack of what can only be described as baby musings…. God vs. Man is another power hungry musical punch to the jaw with a shredded riff introducing the song before John’s highly noticeable vocal takes over, low and breathy. There is something other worldly about the feel to this track, slightly futuristic and alien at the same time. The hard edged, fast paced yet simplistic chorus is delivered with style and you realise that you are yet to catch your breath since the first note of the album. A superb, fiery and crescendo like solo is the precursor to an excitable run out and you can sit back and relax. Now the album moves into a more mainstream arena with Boy In The Radio. The song begins all laid back and smooth before the brilliant voice of Peter Cox makes an entrance. The subtle edge to his vocal is inspired as his baritone adds gloss to a superb pop infused track. The catchy chorus is another delight and, once again, John contributes a stylish guitar solo, polished and skilled.
The next track is the first of the duets, Why Do We Stay, with Heather Findlay. The delicate piano introduction is over laid by a tender vocal from John and the subdued, tranquil mood is set. When Heather begins to sing, it is like a serene touch on your senses, the beauty of her vocal delivery working perfectly with the deeper delivery of John Mitchell. Their voices combine and rise up until an ethereal guitar solo is released, full of passion and soul. A quality rock ballad delivered with aplomb. In my opinion, by far the most progressive song on the album, title track Lonely Robot announces itself with a robotic voice over and a cool bass line before the jangling guitar takes the reins, understated and precise. Another cut glass vocal performance from Mr Mitchell adds sheen to proceedings and the chorus is possibly the most addictive on the album, I found myself singing it at the most unexpected moments. The first part of the song leaves you with a feeling that it is building up to something and that feeling is exposed as the track pulls up to a halt and a complex, intriguing break in the song. You are left on tenterhooks as the atmosphere builds around a dreamlike sequence before a chaotic smorgasbord of pulsating instruments hits you in the solar plexus. This musical storm breaks and the previous serenity is re-established as that jangling guitar note returns and John carries on with his narrative. An understated, intriguing track where it seems the musicians are really enjoying themselves. A Godless Sea begins with a hollow voice over that almost leaves you feeling as if you are under the waves before a pensive keyboard and drums lead you into the track proper. Left with an almost surreal feeling as the metronomic music plays over a semi-hidden vocal background, this song leads you on a wandering journey through the depths of your psyche as the guitar plays a tune that twists and turns as it hits your aural receptors. I really like the disquieting way your mind is led by this inventive instrumental.
The next track introduces itself slap bang in the middle of whatever it is you’re doing and demands your attention. A dominant and forceful introduction leads in John Mitchell’s vocal on Oubliette and it is a track that impresses immediately as the song blossoms into the radiant and unforgettable chorus where Kim Seviour combines with John to deliver an accomplished and compelling vocal performance. When Kim takes on the main duties for the next verse it is as if they have been singing together for a long time. You cannot help but be entranced by the potency of this track and it will stop you in your tracks with its commanding aura, simply outstanding. A delve into the pop sensibilities, Construct, Obstruct has that impelling feel of a Go West song combined with the modern pop-prog note of Frost* or It Bites, which, let’s face it, knowing the artist involved, is no surprise. Lighter and less substantial than the majority of the other tracks, it is neatly constructed yet lacks the punch that the others display. It is captivating in the main but does leave you feeling slightly short-changed, excepting the spirited solo that stands above the rest of the track. Are We Copies has a sombre and pensive note from the beginning, moody and serious as it racks up the feeling of tension. The heartfelt chorus breaks out of that mournful reverie as it shouts its solemn lament. The austere delivery of the track lends itself to pictures of blasted, desolate landscapes in your mind. This is not a song for the faint hearted with a forbidding feel to the hard rock edge, asking more questions that leave you dumbfounded.
A feeling of loss and yet hope washes over you as you listen to Humans Being, a delicate and thoughtful ballad that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Polished and graceful yet with a haunting fragility, this song has a deep and meaningful core and you can’t help but be seduced by its veracity as it bares its soul to you. The dignified and beauteous guitar solo soars high in your consciousness, just a delightful song. Bringing the album to a close, the bare simplicity and finesse of Red Balloon is utterly enrapturing. A beguiling piano and hypnotising vocal leave you transfixed as this entrancing musical journey comes to a close.
He’s a talented bloke that John Mitchell fellow, there is no doubting it, ‘Please Come Home’ is a glorious slice of pop/rock infused progressive rock. Having a group of friends as stellar as the ones he can call on for his Lonely Robot project does help but you can’t take anything away from his gifts as a singer, songwriter, musician and producer. Whether, in the long term, this album will have a durability that endures is, perhaps, too early to tell. I’ll tell you what, I’ll come back to you on that but, in the meantime, just enjoy this to its full extent, it will put a smile on your face from the very first listen.