Lonely Robot are a crossover solo prog project from the mighty John Mitchell, a man who’s almost a tour de force and a one-man army in prog rock, both as a multi-instrumentalist and his contribution to bands such as It Bites, Kino, Frost* and Arena, amongst others. He’s also a producer of some note with his co-ownership of the label, White Star, which focuses mainly, though not exclusively, on prog bands.
His most recent solo project is the Lonely Robot series, of which this latest one Under Stars, is the third, following on from Please Come Home and The Big Dream. Whereas the first one focused on Mitchell’s belief life on this planet didn’t originate here, and The Big Dream was the ‘Zen musings of John Mitchell’. Under Stars considers why the millennial generation seems to be so tied to its phones and technology, it has no clue what’s going on around them, (though he might wish to reconsider this in the light of the recent climate change protests, led mainly by young people).
It’s usually very risky when the same person writes, records and produces an album, giving rise to the temptation to make the album an ego trip, but Mitchell as an experienced muso and producer has avoided this pitfall, and has come up with something which is very proggy, but with all the emphasis on atmospherics than on technical flash and expertise. There’s no over-extended noodling or soloing. As in all the Lonely Robot album’s the sound is powerful, there’s a positive balance achieved between the usage of synths, guitars and vocals and all the songs are particularly strong.
‘Terminal Earth’ opens the album and sets the scene for what’s to follow, with delightful atmospherics and mood evocations running through the album. The track ‘Icarus’ takes its cue from the sci-film ‘Sunshine,’ about a suicide mission to reactivate a dying sun. There are a couple of solid rock workouts, notably ‘When Gravity Fails’ and ‘The Only Time I Don’t Belong Is Now’, whereas the Gorgeous ‘How Bright Is The Sun?’ is reminiscent of a more commercial Porcupine Tree. Other standout tracks include ‘The Signal’, ‘Authorship Of Our Lives’ and title track ‘Under Stars’. The album concludes with ‘An Ending’ which takes the theme from the track ‘Lonely Robot’ on Please Come Home and reimagines it, aided by the lovely voice of Kim Seviour in the background.
If as is being mooted, John Mitchell is retiring the astronaut and concentrating on other ventures, this is as good a way to bow out as he could have wanted.