29 August 2015

Lonely Robot - Please Come Home

My knowledge of the band It Bites amounts to the facts that they're a British, Progressive Rock band, they had a hit single in the Eighties called Calling All The Heroes and that their frontman, Francis Dunnery, was also in Robert Plant’s backing band for a bit. That’s all I know.

Why even mention them in a non It Bites review? Well, it seems that at some point they split up and have since reformed. However Francis Dunnery politely declined the invitation and so he was replaced with a chap called John Mitchell who, I have discovered through my various contacts and resources (ie: Google & Wikipedia), also performed in a large number of British Prog Rock bands, the most recent is a solo album of sorts and recorded under the name Lonely Robot. And here we are.

 As you’d expect from his previous works, Please Come Home is a Prog Rock album, though more in the vein of 80’ style Prog rather than the 70’s tweedledeedling of bands like Yes say, or the more recent Metallic crunch of Devin Townsend and Dream Theater. It’s also something of a concept album I think. There’s a definite theme running through the album anyway; I’m getting hints of Aliens, a soupçon of Religion and the intoxicating aroma of, hnffffffff, yes of The Evolution Of The Human Race.  

It opens with a short instrumental called Airlock, which sets the tone with some stark, jarring piano and some dramatic guitar soloing. It sounds like the beginning of an interstellar adventure. Which, of course,  it is. 
 The first proper song is God Vs. Man. It’s a combination of a reasonably heavy, driving riff and quieter, introspective verses. John’s voice has a nice gravel too it, without being too…Lemmy. The song itself deals with evolvement of human civilisation, our creation of Deific figures and whether our real creators were aliens who will one day return and judge us harshly.

The Boy In The Radio apparently features guest vocals from Peter Cox off of Go West. He must have a really similar voice to John Mitchell cos it took me a dozen listens and a read of another review to notice! It’s a straight forward Pop Rock song that sounds a little bit out of place to the rest of the album, theme-wise at least. It's a very catchy song though and would make a good lead single. Why Do We Stay? Is a slower, piano-led song that features guest vocals (that I DID notice) from Mostly Autumn’s Heather Findlay. Their voices work well together and it’s a really pretty song.

By this point into Please Come Home it's become obvious that John Mitchell is an accomplished songwriter; whilst the songs have a definite whiff of Progness about them, they never meander off into lengthy passages and he doesn’t half have a knack for a catchy chorus, pretty much every song on Please Come Home is infuriatingly singable. The lyrics are intelligent and thought provoking without being intelligible and/or poncy.

The next song, Lonely Robot, both solidifies and refutes my last couple of points in that it’s over eight minutes long and has a bit of a meandering mid-section but it also has one of the catchiest and affecting choruses on the album. To be fair, it doesn’t feel like it’s 8 minutes long, there’s not really any wasted time or unnecessary parts to it. There’s a false ending around 4 ½ minutes though where the songs fades out but comes crashing in again with a big, Porcupine Tree-esque riff. I like this song a lot.

A Godless Sea is perhaps the least engaging track on the album. It’s mostly instrumental, based around some minimal piano and lead guitar and droning atmospherics. What little vocals there are understated and almost mumbled. It’s not a bad song, and contributes to the overall feel of the album, but it’s just not up to the standard of the rest. Oubliette, however, is right up there as possibly the best song on the album. Kicking off with what has quickly become John’s trademark lead guitar sound. It’s built around some mid-paced, chugging guitars and sweeping keyboards. On the first chorus Kim Seviour from Touchstone, another British Prog band, joins him on vocals and then takes over, singing the next verse. Their voices meld perfectly and the song as a whole is instantly engaging. An Oubliette is an unpleasant medieval jail that was essentially a covered, stone pit or well. They were designed to put people in to forget about them. The chorus of Oubliette then implores repeatedly "Please, don’t forget me" As I’ve been singing it pretty much constantly since the first time I heard it, I think that’s fairly unlikely.

Construct/Obstruct is probably the most upbeat and energetic song on the album. It bounces along an intertwined duel of guitar and keyboard. The vocals also see an intertwining with John singing along with another unidentified singer though, I’ve seen that Steve Hogarth from Marillion contributes keyboards and backing vocals to some of this album so’s it could be him? Anyway, it’s a good song whoever it is. Are We Copies? starts with some slow, understated electronics and John singing in a softer voice and a lower register. About halfway through it goes all intensely Metal with a nod along riff. I think it’s similar in theme to God Vs. Man in that it concerns itself with the topic of the ancient astronauts, aliens that guided the direction of human civilisation.

The final two songs are Humans Being and The Red Balloon. The former is a power ballad and has a fairly positive message of “Don’t be so hard on yourself”, It sounds like a big finale and, as such, I might have finished the album with it.  The actual album closer, though, is The Red Balloon is a short solo piano piece that’s nice enough but feels like a footnote and an odd way to end things.

It’s always nice to discover a new artist and even nicer when it’s with an album as good as Please Come Home is. One particular thing I loved about it is that, before I looked more into the theme of it, is that it really does capture the essence of a robot lost in space. There’s the otherworldly atmospherics of it but also a feeling of unexplainable sense of melancholy and sadness as well. There are quite a few guest appearences on this album, including some that i neglected to mention. None of them intrude on the flow of the album and they all contribute in their own ways. I'm not normally a fan of multiple guests on an album as I think it detracts from the artist themselves but there's no issue with any of them here. One guest isn't a musician at all but an English actor called Lee Ingleby, who contributes an understated spoken word delivery at various points throughout the album. They are unobtrusive and easily missed but still add to the overall feeling of loneliness in space. He's been in a load of stuff but I guess the thing most people would recognise is as Stan Shunpike, the bus conductor in Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkhaban.

 If you’re even remotely interested in this sort of thing then give Please Come Home, I swear you’ll not be disappointed. Look for it at the end of the year, quite high up on my personal Albums Of The Year.

9 out of 10 – Almost perfect…almost
Best Track: Either Oubliette or Lonely Robot
Listen to Please Come Home on Spotify HERE
Buy it on Amazon HERE

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