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The Alan Parsons Project - I Robot CD (album) cover

I ROBOT

The Alan Parsons Project

 

Crossover Prog

3.79 | 509 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars The story here was that Alan Parsons wanted to follow up his classic-literature-meets- rock “Tales…” album with a similar concept piece, this time a treatment on Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot”. He even reportedly met with Asimov to discuss the idea. But Asimov had unfortunately long since abdicated the commercial rights to this book series. So Parsons removed the comma from the album’s title and intentionally dumbed- down any apparent associations between his songs and Asimov’s book, and “I Robot” was born.

The title track opener marks the second instance where Parsons begins an album with an ethereal instrumental. This track is full of synthetic instrumentation, spacey backing choruses, and dated but effective sound effects, and while it’s not particularly progressive in composition, it’s a decent enough opening with a pretty catchy rhythm and some nice keyboards. A bit repetitive, which in itself isn’t all that unusual in the progressive music world, but one would expect some variations on the main musical theme as the song progresses, but that doesn’t really happen here.

I’m pretty sure “I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You” was the Project’s first Top-40 single in America. This is another catchy rhythm (one would expect no less from Parsons), and has some very good guitar and bass, but is really just a well-produced pop song.

“Some Other Time” totally reminds me of some of the more mellow stuff Jeff Lynne was doing with ELO around the same time, maybe like “Starlight” or “Steppin’ Out” from “Out of the Blue”, but a bit spacier in the vein of Pink Floyd. A pretty good song all things considered, although pretty short and with not particularly deep lyrics.

Yet another hit single with “Breakdown”, again with pretty decent guitar work amid the plethora of keyboards Parsons has always been known for. Former Hollies front-man Allan Clarke has one of those voices that is just really pleasant to listen to, although he isn’t necessarily all that talented. His tone just blends pretty well with the guitars, and contrasts the chamber backing chants quite nicely. This is probably one of the most recognizable songs in the Project’s repertoire.

Well, along with “Don’t Let it Show”, that is. Apart from the front side of the “Tales…” album, this is my favorite Project composition. This is a very mellow song with pretty minimal instrumentation, but when the string and woodwind arrangements kick in toward the middle of the song, the sound really fills out well. And David Paton (Camel, Pilot) is a pretty decent bass player too, which shows most on this track. The woodwind and keyboard sequence toward the end is pure 1970’s so the track has a bit of a dated feel to it, but it’s a nostalgic feel and reminds me a lot of bands like Pilot, Paper Lace, John Hall (did you know he's active in New York politics now?), and Orleans (Hall's old band) – just this side of pop and largely forgettable, but for a brief moment between about 1974 and 1977, this was a great sound.

Cockney Rebel Steve Harley has a decidedly different tone on “the Voice”, with it’s suspenseful bass line and creative string arrangement. He reminds me of Ian Hunter for some reason – maybe the accent. Anyway, this is kind of filler with it’s odd percussion and slightly chaotic synthesizers. For me this is one of the weaker tracks on the album.

The “Nucleus” instrumental is another pretty well-known piece of Project music. This is quite beautiful stuff, and if it would have been found on a Tangerine Dream album it would have been considered brilliant ambience music, but hidden here on what’s really an art rock album, it tends to be underappreciated. 10CC did some tunes a lot like this one in their day as well.

Parsons seems to favor mellow, melodic tunes on this album. “Day After Day” is no exception. The largely unknown Jack Harris delivers some absolutely gorgeous vocals here. Harris also appeared on “Tales…” and would become a recurring guest on Project albums until he abandoned the music industry for a career in graphic arts.

“Total Eclipse” marks the third instrumental on the album. Frankly I think Parsons took a bit of a risk by having this many instrumentals on an album he was obviously trying to pitch in the commercial popular market. Things work out since the album ended up at something like #5 in the States and spent time on the British charts as well, but still I think this was a bit of a stretch for him. Especially with this particular track, which is interesting enough with its expansive keyboards and moody backing choruses, but it is not really developed into anything appreciable at all.

The album closes with another instrumental (“Genesis 1:32”), named after a verse in the Holy Bible that doesn’t exist (for all you pagans and the uninformed, the book of Genesis ends with verse 31). Anyway, I suppose this is a revisionist verse suggesting that robots and computers constitute the unfinished creation of our world. This one has a really cool guitar lick that is repeated to decent effect throughout the whole song, although again I think Parsons and Eric Woolfson could have spent a bit more time developing this particular compostion.

All told this is a very decent album, but it has enough flaws (mostly in the form of underdeveloped compositions and unexplored concepts) that it can’t really be considered essential by any means. But it is as well-produced and tightly arranged as anything else the Project pair of Parsons and Woolfson would produce. So three stars seems about right.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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