I consider John Mitchell to be one of the most prolific artists around today, and he’s also one of my favorite guitarists. His Lonely Robot project is some of his best work, too, and we are finally seeing the end to the project arc with “Under Stars”, releasing through Inside Out Music on April 26th. This album represents a satisfying ending to a wonderful trilogy.
John handles vocals, guitars, keyboards, and some bass. You will also hear legendary artists Craig Blundell on drums, and Steve Vantsis on bass on five of the tracks. Seeing as how John handles many of the instruments himself, the instrumentation sounds focused and poignant.
Lonely Robot offers music that is grand and celestial, evoking feelings of both outer and inner spaces. Yes, it is progressive rock, so you’ll hear John’s signature guitars (especially his emotional solos) and beautiful keys, but the music is a vehicle for deep lyrical musings. This particular album has some electronic trappings added here and there, and you’ll notice how quiet and even peaceful many of the textures and atmospheres are throughout, but it overall sounds similar to the last couple albums.
“Under Stars” is a solid, emotional ending to this fantastic Lonely Robot trilogy. The first album felt spacey and otherworldly, like travelling through the stars. The second album felt more human and organic, like a journey through our hearts and minds. This album feels like a combination of the two. “Under Stars” seems to play that human condition up against the nature of our existence in the cosmos.
The lyrics on this album revolve around the astronaut as a representative of humanity, as usual. This time, the themes are specifically about the newer generations’ focus on technology and smart phones, which is a theme we have seen on other recent albums. The idea here is that John wants us to look up and experience the brightness of the sun and the glory all around us.
What does that mean for the music? This album seems to be more focused on the lyrics and on the end of the story. It wants to tie up open themes. Many of the songs are slower, quieter, and muted: Like the lengthy director’s cut ending to The Return of the King, it quietly plays on your heart strings first and foremost . I would say there is less experimentation on this record, as well. The music is still atmospheric and vivid, however, though it is less daring than the other records. I have to admit that I was not as taken by this record upon my first listen, but something keeps me coming back for more. And, even though the choruses aren’t as catchy as on the other albums, they really get into your brain with fierce staying power, but only after absorbing them for a few listens. For me, that indicates mature writing.
There are several wonderful pieces on this album. “Icarus” is my favorite song. It excels in the keys department with some strong central melodies and electronic accents, and the chorus is memorable. The title track itself is quite vivid and nostalgic in tone, and John powers through a great solo in the middle. “The Signal” has a wonderful filter to the vocals that pairs with a wondrous heavenly aura to the effect that it simply takes you away from here.
“How Bright Is the Sun?” is one of the singles, and it is one of those songs that passes you by at first, but then you find yourself humming it later. I absolutely love the chorus and the way John performs the vocals. “Inside This Machine” has some of the best guitar work on the album, with howling and screaming licks that get inside your spine. Finally, “An Ending” is a bright and peaceful ending to this glorious journey that features a re-visitation of lyrics from “Lonely Robot” off the debut album. It is a perfect finale to this album and to this trilogy, and it will make you feel like you just watched the finale to your favorite sitcom again.
“Under Stars” is richer, quieter, and more pensive than the previous albums. I would not say it is better than the first two, but it is the album that we needed in order to close this thoughtful arc. While I do hope Lonely Robot continues, I am also completely okay with John pursuing other ideas, and I know I will like them. If you loved the first two Lonely Robot albums, you will certainly want to add this to your collection.
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