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Lonely Robot - The Big Dream CD (album) cover


Lonely Robot


Crossover Prog

3.67 | 86 ratings

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Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars British multi-instrumentalist John Mitchell takes time out once again from Frost*, the reworked version of It Bites and Neo- Proggers Arena to deliver his second work under the solo project name Lonely Robot, after its debut a few years back. The first album `Please Come Home' was a reliable and easy-to-enjoy (if - whisper it - an occasionally slightly bland) atmospheric rock disc, but Mr Mitchell steps up in a big way here with 2017's `The Big Dream' to deliver a far more memorable follow-up that improves on the groundwork laid on that initial effort in every way. Tighter arrangements, some heavier touches for added drama and, most important of all, punchier vocal rock/pop pieces that retain lyrical intelligence whilst still containing ear-worm melodies that lodge themselves in the brain are all present, and they're carried by Mr Mitchell's always distinctively raspy voice that reminds why he's one of the most quietly charismatic singers in modern prog.

Lonely Robot is hardly some super prog-rock blowout, but instead of lengthy and histrionic showboating soloing, ambitious rock with a keen focus on intelligent words and smart song-writing is the order of the day here, with Mitchell choosing carefully when to unleash with sparingly used epic guitar journeys to raise the pulse and emotional heft of the tunes. Listeners who liked the modern discs of artists such as Sound of Contact and David Kerzner will find quite a similar sound here, and those with longer memories might even find it often calls to mind Mitchell's own one-off but fondly remembered Kino album from 2005 that saw him collaborating with former Porcupine Tree drummer Chris Maitland and Marillion's Pete Trewavas. `The Big Dream' is not a concept work as such, but one that carries over themes and ideas present on the first 2015 disc, and many of the songs here hold a reflective lyric that makes them easily relatable outside of the branching yet cryptic story.

After `Prologue - Deep Sleep's mysterious twinkling ambiance and melancholic spoken word opening, `Awakenings' kicks off the album proper with a gutsy rock tune of muscular grinding guitars and spectral synths in-between a rousing chorus that hides surreal dream-like words. John is joined by female backing singer Bonita McKinney (the duo sound great whenever they share vocals together throughout the disc) for `Sigma', another introspective rock tune with a killer chorus wedged between jangling guitars and slinking electronics, and listen out for the deceptively subtle reggae touches hidden here and there! The pair slow things down for the reflective power ballad `In Floral Green' with a dreamy chorus kissed by the gods of pop that trails off with a sweet falsetto vocal, and John lets rip briefly with a fiery heartfelt electric guitar solo that burns to the heavens.

`Everglow' pounds with louder guitar and synth bombast again for a tune that wouldn't have sounded out of place on those above mentioned Sound of Contact/David Kerzner releases with its wordy but catchy chorus. Then we hit one of the album highlights, `False Light', that will have listeners wondering if John snuck in former Lonely Robot guest and Steven Wilson Band cohort Nick Beggs due to the aggressive and relentlessly buoyant bass that leaps around one-time Pendragon (and also Steven Wilson Band) Craig Blundell's stormy busy drumming, and John's sparkling keyboards throughout are another standout feature.

`Symbolic' is a breathless and frantic up-tempo rocker where parts of the ringing guitars remind of proudly proggy British indie-poppers Mansun, and the optimistic `The Divine Art Of Being' could have easily fit on the early romantic Pendragon albums or the more streamlined `Nomzamo/Are You Sitting Comfortably?' era of I.Q. The eight-minute `The Big Dream' delivers the sole big purely instrumental moment of the disc, plodding with brooding heavy guitars with epic Pink Floyd-like soloing, grumbling staccato bass rumbles, ghostly Mellotron veils, gothic synth grandiosity and eclectic Steve Hackett-esque nightmare/dream-like interludes. `Hello World, Goodbye' is perhaps the closest the album comes to a classy Peter Gabriel- like duet ballad with Bonita returning but still finds time for some crisp guitar soloing from John, and `Epilogue - Sea Beams' is a final ambient reprise with pristine piano and light folky themes to close on.

(Not to be entirely ignored, the CD version comes with three bonus tracks. First up are charming acoustic versions of both `In Floral Green' and `The Divine Art Of Being', and while they don't alter the proper album versions too drastically, they instantly reveal what first-rate tunes they are at their core. Then there's a new spin on `Why Do We Stay' from the first Lonely Robot album sung by ex-Touchstone singer, the delightful Kim Seviour, who contributed to `Please Come Home' back in '15, and this new version reminds that she's a charming singer with a maturity well beyond her young years, and it moves the piece to something not far removed from a band like Mostly Autumn.)

Some will find that `The Big Dream' doesn't quite tick enough more obvious `prog' boxes often enough, but listeners who appreciate well-crafted, excitingly performed and interesting rock albums that crossover into prog will discover plenty to like here, and it's so easy to replay often and enjoy even on a surface level. The album seems to be slipping under the radar a little bit this year when it and John Mitchell in general deserve much more attention, but on the strength of `The Big Dream', looks like this Lonely Robot's going to be picking up plenty of extra friends in the near future!

Four stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |


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