As eye-catching birth names go, John Mitchell isn’t quite up there with Madonna Ciccone or Prince Nelson Rogers. So it makes sense for the erstwhile It Bites, Arena, Kino and Frost* musician and producer-to-the-prog-stars to adopt a more creative moniker for his solo projects. However, he has admitted that the Lonely Robot name was only initially intended for the initial trilogy of albums he made between 2015 and 2019. And on this fifth album under that name, familiar themes and lyrical preoccupations resurface: in particular, 21st-century alienation and the ongoing battle to keep mind and body together in trying times.
The ‘Hello’ that starts Digital God Machine echoes Floyd’s Comfortably Numb as it seems to dig at the facile temptation to bring down others (via social media, we might venture?): ‘You spit from in the darkness/With your digital god machine.’ Elsewhere, Species In Transition mourns a simpler world that appears further away than ever in 2022: ‘Do you remember talking, and just what that used to really mean?/It doesn’t seem nostalgic when the world is tearing at the seams.’
On a purely musical level, A Model Life is rarely overtly prog in tooth and claw. It’s essentially a superior soft rock record with echoes of our old friends, Messrs Gabriel and Waters, in Mitchell’s vocal style. Exceptions to that rule, however, include Species In Transition, which slowly smoulders with brooding bass as eerie background noises creak, before an alluring guitar solo emerges from the fog. Duty Of Care then opens with a faintly hypnotised meditation offset by a curious spoken-word background monologue and incantations to ‘just keep breathing…’
Simple though the textures may seem, what this album does very effectively is match the music to the lyrical mood. The above words are just one example of several apparently self-therapeutic musings found on the album, and they are dotted with the flickering beacons of hope that Mitchell often nurtures within his work. Rain Kings is geared around a chorus that is another skyward-facing blast of relief as it concludes, ‘When in the sadness, we must cry/For every tear will always dry.’ On the aforementioned Duty Of Care, comfort is offered with a richly melodic hook accompanying the knowledge that ‘in the warmth of your arms I will lie’, even though Mitchell has just admitted, ‘The places I used to call home are now bonfires.’ Starlit Stardust offers another potent and cathartic arena rock high as he sings, ‘You’re in God’s tiny hands/Yes I’m counting the days/But still upwardly gazing.’
Still a Robot, then, but still relatably, invitingly human.
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