Artist: Lonely Robot
Album Title: A Model Life
Label: InsideOut Music
Date of Release: 26 August 2022
It doesn’t matter how heavy or how extreme my tastes become, I will always have a place in my heart for certain ‘softer’ styles of music, and for certain artists. Progressive rock is one, and John Mitchell is another. Put them together, and the result is what they refer to as a ‘no-brainer’. It doesn’t matter whether I’m knee deep in technical death metal, black metal, or some other extreme sounds, when I am alerted to new music from Mr Mitchell, I will always willingly and eagerly find time to listen.
Whether it has been with Arena, Frost*, It Bites, or on his own with Lonely Robot, John Mitchell has demonstrated that he has talent in abundance. He is known to be a great guitarist with the soul and touch, in my opinion, of a Gilmour. He is also a vocalist with a distinctive voice. But if such a thing were ever in doubt, his exploits under his Lonely Robot moniker have given us ample evidence that Mitchell is a consummate songwriter too.
Progressive rock can often drown itself in complexity, or unnecessary displays of technical prowess but that’s not the case with Lonely Robot. In fact, as a non-musician myself, it is surprising just how ‘easy’ or simple some of the compositions actually sound. They are not simple of course, but Mitchell’s abilities give that impression. The same is true of ‘A Model Life’, the xth album under the Lonely Robot moniker.
I guess that it would be fair to say that longer-term fans of Lonely Robot will not be surprised by the vast majority of the content of ‘A Model Life’, because it follows the general modus operandi seen on previous records. However, this also means that you are guaranteed of a hugely enjoyable and high-quality body of new music from John Mitchell just as his back catalogue has provided over the years.
Speaking personally, I have always required time and close attention in order to get the best out of Lonely Robot albums. A first listen will yield plenty, but with repeated spins, the compositions always seem to get even better. Whether it is because the melodies and choruses dig in harder, or that the songs reveal facets that are hidden at first, or subtly placed, I always find that my enjoyment increases greatly with patience and time. Mind you, this is progressive music, so it was ever thus, and I’d not want it to be any other way.
‘A Model Life’ is absolutely no different, with some real gems on offer at just about every turn. In fact, I’m not sure that there’s a poor track on this record with my least favourite, ‘Mandalay’ still offering an important ingredient to the overall aesthetic. Even the opening track, ‘Recalibrating’, has gone from being an initial ‘meh’ song, to a vital, and ‘classic’ Lonely Robot composition, full of subtle guitar embellishments and an energy that proves difficult to resist with time and attention, mainly as I have been cycling the quiet backroads of the Suffolk countryside.
‘Digital God Machine’ is a thinly-veiled attack on the trolls that plague the Internet these days. However, despite a dark underbelly that’s palpable at the start of the song, Mitchell switches tack and delivers a gorgeously melodic and memorable chorus, thus proving that you can create cutting and beautiful music at the same time.
I currently have two favourite moments on ‘Model Life’, and they have been such since the early days. They feature on concurrent tracks, namely ‘Species In Transition’ and ‘Starlit Stardust’, and both are stunning in very different ways. The former is a gorgeous song from beginning to end, a darker, quieter, and moodier affair that sends tingles up and down my spine from the outset when a piano duets with Mitchell’s softer, more pensive vocal delivery. The song builds as it develops, the intensity ratcheting up as a result, until we are hit with what must be one of the best, most eloquent, and emotive lead guitar solos of 2022. It is stunning, with those Gilmour comparisons looming large, as the precise, well-placed notes soar to the heavens.
By contrast, ‘Starlit Stardust’ is a more up-tempo and effervescent track that has a touch of the Bowie about it, but that might just be because of the track’s title. Despite being more of a bright and breezy composition, particularly in the killer, hook-laden chorus, the verses are less so and it is here that the second stand-out moment appears. Twice in the song, Mitchell sings the words ‘oh not that again, oh not that again, not that again, please not that again’. It doesn’t seem like much in written form, but there’s a sorrow to the words, a pleading, heart-wrenching simplicity that has an effect on me each time I hear it. If you’ve yet to hear this song, I urge you to do so and maybe you’ll understand what I’m trying to describe and convey here.
In typical Mitchell style, we are treated to a song which allows his sense of humour and whimsy to emerge. On ‘Model Life’, we get ‘The Island Of Misfit Toys’ and it actually delivers one of the strongest choruses, reminding me of ‘Tall Ships’ It Bites material. The title track is a suitably beautiful piece of music with another stunning chorus, but it is very much in keeping with the sombre and melancholy vibe that permeates much of this latest Lonely Robot record.
The other track I feel requires some attention is the stunning ‘Rain Kings’ which as you might expect features the sounds of falling rain to accompany a simple, recurring keyboard melody, almost childlike in a way. But around this, Mitchell builds a sumptuous soundscape full of depth and texture out of which shines an exquisite chorus that is so powerful, it remains in my head for hours after the album finishes. In fact, it is often the earworm that’s lodged in my head from dawn until dusk. But it’s so good, I really don’t mind.
Put as simply as I can, this is the best album that John Mitchell has created under the Lonely Robot name so far. It has been my companion for months now, and I never tire of its company. It remains my go-to album when I need some relief from the excesses of extreme metal, but more than that, it is a progressive album par excellence, and with genuine depth and emotion, one that should find its way into every prog rock collection the world over.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%