John Mitchell has long been a friend of Spirit, having been a popular performer back in the old HLC days when he trod the boards with arena, Frost*, It Bites as well having worked with The Urbane and Kino as well, you could say that John is one of the busiest men in prog, having also recently produced the Rooms latest album.
Stepping away from his other work, John started what is probably his most emotive work to date, the Lonely Robot trilogy back in 2015 with Please Come Home, which featured a plethora of guest artists and different vocalists, creating an epic piece of work.
John then followed that up in 2017 with The Big Dream, where it was pared down to the duo of Mitchell and Blundell.
Following a successful tour in 2017, John returns to the world of the Lonely Robot for what is, the final part of the trilogy, with live bassist Steve Vantsis joining the party.
Evolving from the previous albums, and yet still remaining part of the same musical family, evolution not revolution is the key to this album, progression with a small p, underpinned of course by Johns distinctive and emotive vocals.
As John himself mentions in the press release, this album is in part about how the current generation is tied to their technology, and don’t know what’s going on around them. Big topics, which are very much of the now.
Writing through the Astronaut character that John has created, allows him a cipher to channel his song writing, and dealing in concepts and ideas, linked to the narrative of the previous albums, adds a continuity to the themes and sounds on offer.
There’s some of that sublime Mitchell guitar on the plaintive Under Stars, whilst the whole album has an atmospheric electronic vibe, reminiscent of the synth rock sounds of the late 80’s.
There are themes that are repeated on here, from Icarus (based on Johns favourite film Sunshine, where the spaceship was called Icarus 1) and is Johns unique take on two stories, with some fantastic musical work.
Whilst ‘the light of the dying sun’ is a refrain repeated in Authorship of Our Lives, which covers topics like social media, failing to heed the warnings of history and being better than we are, all cheery stuff, but delivered with just the right amount of musical power for it to become one of the songs on the album that would translate well in a live setting.
That’s the thing I found about the previous Lonely Robot albums, they are good, strong artistic pieces of work, which absolutely come to life in the live setting, where the dynamics are pushed further than on record, and gives it that power, which is sometimes lacking slightly on the album.
Again the sun, and our dependence on it is revisited on How Bright is the Sun? which has a very sparse, almost 80’s ‘less is more’ production value to it, stripping it right back to sampled beats, piano tunes, and Mitchells vocals, it’s probably one of the most radical songs on the album, and the way it slowly builds with John’s emotive vocals, again marks this out as one of the songs on here that would blow it out of the park live, particularly when out of the sparseness comes a solo that is Floydian in it’s intensity. At just over 6 minutes, it’s the ‘epic’ on the album.
There’s no over long songs on here, John says what he needs to say in each song, which means there’s no filler, this is no 90 minute album because that’s how long a CD needs to be.
As a performer and producer John knows the best way to structure an album, and that approach works here.
The final two tracks, which say round of the trilogy Inside This Machine/An Ending, do a perfect job of rounding the story, the sparse electro sounds, again bringing an 80’s/early 90’s vibe to proceedings, whilst retaining that Lonely Robot sound, builds nicely with some superb guitar work again, showing why John is such a gun for hire, and indeed so busy as a musician and guitarist.
Meanwhile an ending, in the cyclical progressive scheme of things (hell it wouldn’t be prog if it didn’t have a reprise, would it) repeats the phrasing from the debut album ‘Please come home, lonely robot’ over a slightly altered arrangement of the original song, putting a perfect coda on 3 albums worth of work.
Lonely Robot has been an interesting trilogy of albums, showing a different side to Johns work, and after this Under Stars, concludes the trilogy in a familiar fashion that will please those who’ve been following the albums over the last 4 years, it will be interesting to see where Johns muse takes him next.
LONELY ROBOT – Under Stars (49:49)
1. Terminal Earth (1:56)
2. Ancient Ascendant (5:47) *
3. Icarus (5:21)
4. Under Stars (5:16) *
5. Authorship Of Our Lives (5:39)
6. The Signal (3:20)
7. The Only Time I Don’t Belong Is Now (5:16) *
8. When Gravity Fails (5:03) *
9. How Bright Is The Sun? (6:03) *
10. Inside This Machine (3:28)
11. An Ending (2:40)
John Mitchell – vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass
Craig Blundell – drums
Steve Vantsis – bass on *
Released on Inside Out Music April 26th 2019