The fifth album under the Lonely Robot name is to be released August 26th… I have to admit I wasn’t overly familiar with John Mitchell until his performances on Phil Lanzon’s (Uriah Heep) 2 excellent solo albums (If You Think I’m Crazy, 2017, and 48 Seconds, 2019). His vocals on Lanzon’s albums made me curious about his other work – such as It Bites and Arena. A Model Life is full of fine melodies and well crafted songs & productions from the opener “Recalibrating”, the softer ballad “Species In Transition” (with a cool guitar solo), the excellent title song, and “Rain Kings” (somewhat of a ballad, John reminds me of Peter Gabriel on occasion). But really, this album of 10 tracks has a lot going on, progressive, very modern / fresh sounding, great vocals, and it gets better with each listen, as there is so much going on with differences from song to song.
*for more info check out the press bio and links below…
A lone soldier on the frontlines of creativity, John Mitchell has been at the forefront of forward thinking and progressive rock for decades now. As a member of such revered prog ensembles as It Bites, Arena, Frost* and his own projects Kino and The Urbane, he has become a uniquely vital contributor to the modern scene, while his credentials as a producer for countless contemporary rock acts are unquestionable. But since 2015, John has been operating under name Lonely Robot: a solo project in all but name, it has enabled him to fully express his own musical vision, via some of the most vivid and fascinating music of his career to date.
Remarkably, Lonely Robot’s catalogue is already four albums deep. From 2015’s cosmic debut Please Come Home and its grandiose follow-up The Big Dream (2017), to the multifarious charms of 2019’s Under Stars and most recent full-length Feelings Are Good (2020), John has cemented his reputation as a prolific and inspirational songwriter. Two years on from his last release, the Lonely Robot is back in action again in 2022. The fifth album to bear the name, A Model Life is John Mitchell’s first communication to a post-pandemic world.
“The truth is, I only ever intended to make three albums and then stop,” he laughs. “Then we got to the end of the three albums and I had a discussion with the label about maybe not releasing the next one under the name Lonely Robot, but with true Germanic business sense, they said, ‘We have established the brand now!’ So then everyone’s wondering where the guy in the spacesuit has gone! But I don’t really care what it’s called, as long as I get to keep making music. The thing I find most freeing about Lonely Robot is that I can just sit there on my own, get on with it at my own pace and not wait around for other people!”
If the first four Lonely Robots offered wistful, sci-fi-tinged observations on the state of things, A Model Life is perhaps understandably infused with the anxieties and ominous omens of the real life, present day. As John explains, the new songs have a little more grit under their fingernails than any of their predecessors; even if the relentlessly inventive, melodic splurge of his songwriting remains soundly intact.
“A lot of shit has happened, and one quite traumatizing thing was that I split up with my girlfriend of 16 years and it hit me very hard,” he says. “Then quite a few people I know died, and that hit me very hard. I thought, this isn’t how it’s supposed to go. What happened to the forever ever after, into the sunset? That’s where the title comes from, A Model Life. It’s about what people’s fantasies of what they would like their lives to be, rather than what they actually are. Endless positive affirmation on social media and everything looking pure and white and like an Enya video. So every song is about being pissed off about someone or other. There’s no robots or space or anything!”
An album that brims with frustration at the state of things, while tugging remorselessly at the heart strings, A Model Life is plainly the most honest and vulnerable Lonely Robot record to date. From opener Recalibrating, which muses on the aftermath of a broken relationship, and Digital God Machine – a sardonic tribute to keyboard warriors everywhere, to the boys-don’t-cry pathos of Rain Kings and the absurdly moving, adoption-themed Duty Of Care, these new songs provide a scattershot but profoundly emotional soundtrack to a restless and uncertain world.
“Recalibrating is about splitting up with somebody and the nail goes into your head and you realize that there is no second act for that relationship. Digital God Machine is about fucking morons in their bedrooms, typing hate at people like me for writing music and thinking they know better. Then there’s The Island Of Misfit Toys, which is about people that don’t have a sense of belonging. I like the analogy of knackered toys with eyes hanging out, for people who don’t fit in and are socially awkward… a bit like myself! I was thinking about an article I read about how Google go out of their way to employ people on the autistic spectrum, because they’re much better at figures and numbers. One day those people will take over the world!”
In musical terms, A Model Life marks a notable departure from the synth-fueled futurism of 2020’s Feelings Are Good. Songs like the darkly euphoric Starlit Stardust and the tense sprawl of Species In Transitions are full of punchy riffs and blazing solos, not to mention all the ingenious instrumentation and studio trickery that John Mitchell has made such an essential part of his music.
“I do think this record is different,” he notes. “There’s lots of weird sounds and soundscapes. I’m just trying to make odd sounds out of things. On Digital God Machine, that’s me beating the shit out of a cello through a distortion pedal. At the risk of sounding like Peter Gabriel, there’s a lot of ethnic elements like marimbas and things I haven’t used before. I was under a self-imposed solo ban for the last Frost* record, so I really went overboard and played too many guitar solos this time. The last album was all about synthesizers, but this one is all about getting back to what I think I probably do best, so it’s all about guitar playing again.”
Yet another career peak from one of modern prog’s most prolific polymaths, A Model Life hits harder than any previous Lonely Robot record, but with a warmth and wit that few can match. Meanwhile, with long-awaited tour dates tentatively etched into the horizon, John Mitchell declares himself ready and cautiously optimistic for whatever the future holds.
“There’s a tour in February and some dates in Europe. But if the various hoops we have to jump through haven’t been sorted by then, When we planned this tour it was three albums ago, so I don’t know what I’m doing anymore! [Laughs] I’m really proud of A Model Life, so I might focus on that. I’ve got no idea what I’m going to play because I’ve got far too many songs! I’m sure I’ll put my nose back to the grindstone soon and make another album too.”