Lonely Robot is a crossover prog-rock solo project from the mighty John Mitchell, whose contribution to the genre down the years cannot be understated. He’s a prolific musician and multi-instrumentalist and plays in / has played with Fish, Kino, Frost, Arena and It Bites, amongst others. He’s also a producer of no little repute. In prog terms, he’s a force of nature, almost an army of one, which is quite appropriate as it’s also a title of one of the songs on the new album.
Feelings Are Good is something of a departure from the three previous Lonely Robot releases, affectionately known as the ‘astronaut trilogy,’ in that the subject matter here moves away from spatial imagery and the mysteries of the cosmos, rooted on terra firma; with the songs being very much about individual experiences and narratives.
If you’re familiar with Lonely Robot, you’ll immediately recognise the album’s sound and structure, but it doesn’t come across as an earlier album being plagiarised. Mitchell’s adept at composing new tunes but, despite his prodigious recorded output in recent years (he was involved with nine albums since 2015, including three Lonely Robot albums, plus an EP, and a new Frost* album later in 2020), doing so in a way which doesn’t come over as derivative. If there’s one quality Mitchell does have, it’s in evoking prog atmospherics rather than dazzling us with technical expertise. In this he’s on a par with Riverside. He also has a penchant for injecting melody in prog, something not all Proggers have.
‘Crystalline’ is closer in feel to the astronaut trilogy than most on the album with its melancholic intro and subtle use of strings is a prime example of a track which could easily be played on Radio 2. As is ‘The Silent Life,’ an almost achingly beautiful song. Both these songs are reprised at the end of the album with more orchestral versions. But Lonely Robot also rocks as well.
The synth-led ‘Into the Lo-Fi,’ with its nod to Porcupine Tree’s ‘Jupiter Island,’ ‘Armour for my heart’ and ‘Keeping People as Pets’ are all powerful rock-outs, as is the slower but more intense ‘Army of One,’ with its crashing beat and its ear-worm chorus of let’s go to war. Mitchell made his name as a guitarist, and on tracks like ‘Spiders,’ ‘Life is a Sine Wave’ and ‘Suburbia,’ there’re some quite aggressive bursts of guitar wizardry, but played melodically rather than with histrionics.
The album begins and ends with two very short pieces, both songs together barely registering two and a half minutes. Title track ‘Feelings are Good’ sees Mitchell intoning ‘Feelings are good, you can’t deny’ with his voice fed through a vocoder. Closing track ‘Grief is the price of love’ is a bittersweet love song played on just an acoustic guitar, where ‘no matter how far you run, it’s not far enough.’ Several of Mitchell’s songs sound deceptively simple at the outset, yet a closer listen makes you realise there’s always a lot going on in his songs. It’s the complex simplicity of his tunes which makes Feelings are Good a very worthy addition to the Lonely Robot series.