Through all his prog outings, John Mitchell’s always had a big, distinctive sound. His ‘Astronaut Trilogy’ – his previous three Lonely Robot records Please Come Home, The Big Dream and Under Stars – were dense, hefty works that revelled in their interstellar aesthetic. But beneath the cinematic production patina – the Blade Runner bleeps, the Alien echoes – Mitchell’s anthemic palette, trademark rock riffs and melodic hooks always remained the engine. And amid the abstract, sci-fi lyrics he dealt with human concerns, like love, memory and identity.
The fourth Lonely Robot album, Feelings Are Good dispenses with the space theme. As Mitchell puts it: “We’re back on planet Earth, and I have a very personal lyrical axe to grind!” He says it was a cathartic record to write, and while it’s risky to second-guess such personal and often oblique lyrics as those here, that disturbing cover speaks volumes. Mitchell’s unafraid to dig deep into his own psychology, and comes across angry, bitter, frustrated, sad and heartbroken, sometimes within the turn of a phrase.
Yet that musical engine purrs. Vocoders and burbling keys colour the jaunty, jaundiced paean to the past Into The Lo-Fi (‘I didn’t like the future and the present’s out/I’m seeing things in sepia much clearer now’). Discordant and disquieting, Spiders shows Mitchell’s brilliance at sneaking in odd rhythmic shifts and modal harmony while never losing sight of the hooks and the story: ‘With hundreds of eyes you watched everything rise, then shot venom straight to the heart.’ Aptly reflecting on life’s ups and downs (mood swings, maybe?), catchy single Life Is A Sine Wave is a chugging retro rocker tempered with soft piano passages, a crunchy synth, and a soaring, lyrical guitar solo. Mitchell remains a monster player but keeps a lid on the widdle admirably this time out.
His guitars are urgent in Suburbia – a scathing diatribe against small-mindedness – and often play a more textural role, as in the electro-heavy Keeping People As Pets, an unflinching fulmination on abuse and manipulation in relationships. Crystalline oozes genuine, lovelorn sorrow, while the throbbing Army Of One morphs from defiant, barracks yard metal into a more introspective exploration of the war waged within.
Feelings Are Good is a pretty tough listen, but never a dirge. Indeed, two of its finest moments are its gentlest: The Silent Life is a beautiful, baleful double portrait, and with just his voice and acoustic guitar, Mitchell offers the plaintive and direct Grief Is The Price Of Love – the most bittersweet one and a half minutes you’ll spend this blighted year.