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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Alan Parsons Project: I Robot

I ROBOT (1977)

1) I Robot; 2) I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You; 3) Some Other Time; 4) Breakdown; 5) Don't Let It Show; 6) The Voice; 7) Nucleus; 8) Day After Day; 9) Total Eclipse; 10) Genesis Ch. 1 v. 32.

If asked, «Who would be the perfect artist to transfer the ideas and the general feel of Asimov's work(s) onto a musical setting?», the average knowledgeable person would probably name Kraft­werk, or, perhaps, somebody within their innumerable legions of electronic followers. And that would be wrong — because Kraftwerk would try to approach the goal exclusively from the ro­bot's point of view, whereas Asimov's concern has always been that of depicting the man — ma­chine interaction rather than the machine itself.

Which means that, in 1977, no one could have done it better than The Alan Parsons Project, a musical team assembled specifically for the purpose of gluing together traditional values of melo­dy and harmony with the world of technical progress and automatic programming. You may like I Robot or hate it, but what it sets out to achieve, achieve it does. Not to mention that it is also the most technically complex and unpredictable record in the band's catalog, which, per se, could be an asset only for major prog-rock fans — and major prog-rock fans generally tend to avoid Parsons for all of the man's immaculately calculated commercialism. (They do fail to remember that if commercial success were Parsons' prime interest, he could have turned his band into Styx or Journey with one wave of his hand; he never did).

More than a third of the record is completely instrumental, with tracks ranging from purely am­bient-atmospheric ('Nucleus' — solemnly happy electronic waves of sound to illustrate physical processes; 'Total Eclipse' — a spooky marriage of Gregorian chant with synthesizer science) to re­petitive, but memorable melodic drones (the title track, unexpectedly white-funky; 'Genesis 1:32', announcing the next unwritten episode in the history of Creation but not sounding too hap­py about it — well, the Alan Parsons Project is very rarely happy about things). In terms of con­ceptuality and complexity, the instrumentals are really the meat of the LP as such, and they are so well done that any talk of progressive rock being deader than a doornail by 1977 must be put to rest on this sort of evidence alone. This stuff sounds good, and it sold, too.

But sell it did, most likely, on the strength of its vocalized poppier-oriented content. Two of the singles were ballads: 'Day After Day', sung by Jack Harris, is gallantly Floydian in tone and me­lody, yet never once injected with Waters' misanthropic venom, and 'Don't Let It Show', sung by Dave Townsend, is a sappy soft-rock tear-jerker whose artificial tenderness will undoubtedly lead many to accuse the song of criminal activities against good taste. I would probably hate it per se, were I to hear it on some classic rock radio station, but it feels nice and cozy in the overall con­text of the LP, where the listener can make sure that, in fact, this kind of sound is an exception for this album rather than its norm.

Third single was 'I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You', whose single-power is derived from its be­ing so attractively rhythmic; with the rhythm section locked in a shy funk groove and the guitar player taking a lesson in chicken-scratching, you could stick it in the midst of your local disco­theque selections and no one would have noticed. Funk rears its head on 'Breakdown', too, graced with the instantly recognizable vocals of Hollies' frontman Allan Clarke, and even more so on 'The Voice' (Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel fame at the wheel), with a wah-wah solo, no less.

In fact, the only vocal number which does not reflect a 180-degree turn from the style of Tales is 'Some Other Time': stately, mid-tempo, solemn brass, choral vocals, cold lonesome feeling, the works. Everything else is subtly targeted at modernistic audiences. But the charm of I Robot is that the first impression is still that of an intelligent, complex, well-crafted album dedicated to a serious topic; it is not until later that you start to notice how busy Parsons and Woolfson actually are concocting the balance between paying tribute to Asimov's vision (or, more precisely, their vision of Asimov's vision) and making a record fit for the public taste of 1977.

In the end, not all that much is left of Asimov's vision. The instrumental numbers are ambiguous, and the lyrics, which are generally described by reviewers as being «about robots», are in fact somewhat obscure, not to mention clichéd. But there is a huge emotional palette here, all the same — anger, fear, sadness, tenderness — making I Robot stand on its perfect own as, perhaps, the richest musical experience to be gained from the Project; and, disregarding most of the critical scorn that used to go hand in hand with each of Parsons' new ventures, one should not really be ashamed of issuing a thumbs up to this album at least, fantastically solidly constructed from the brainwise point of view and harboring plenty of delight for the senses as well.


  1. 'Sup, George? I just finished reading both of your reviews of this one, your old one and your new one, and I'm very glad you like it. Where "Tales"' main genre was rock, this one's is funk- check out the title track, "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You", "Breakdown", and "The Voice". Next, the ballads. They're lovely, with "Some Other Time" being... well, lovely, and "Don't Let It Show" is GORGEOUS, and I love its coda! "Day After Day (The Show Must Go On)" is okay- it's kinda psychedelic, and it does remind me of Pink Floyd. Oh... a short ditty on "The Wall" is called "The Show Must Go On", and it's in the same key and everything... the instrumentals are super different from the ones on "Tales". The title track, like I mentioned earlier, funky, if only you can get past the LOOOONG synth intro. "Nucleus" is really cool and weird... check out the drumbeat! "Total Eclipse" is strange, sometimes pretty, sometimes as chaotic as "Fall", and "Genesis"... I can really only remember that it's kinda slow and sad, and fades out way too soon. Well, I'm done... review some Toto?

  2. Ever noticed that under the looped synthesizers, the Who's "Eminence Front" is very similar to "I Wouldn't Want to be Like You"? Same funk-like guitar part and everything?

  3. Regarding the vagueness of the lyrics and the tenuous connection to Asimov, it was all intentional. Unlike Poe's writings, Asimov's work wasn't in the public domain, so Parsons and Woolfson met up with him and asked for his permission to make an album based on I, Robot. Asimov approved the idea, but was unable to give them the rights to do it, having already sold them. Thus, the album's title lost its comma (legally making it a different title from the book's), and specific references to things like the Three Laws were removed from the lyrics. It all makes sense now, doesn't it?