Classic Rock Review

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The Alan Parsons Project I Robot (1977)


This is another one of those “win-or-lose” moments, but I’ll go ahead and say it: I Robot is a masterpiece, or at least, a near-masterpiece, because Alan Parsons is no Pete Townshend, after all.

But it’s not a masterpiece because of its “deep penetration inside the problem of relations between humanity and artificial intellect”, as some A.P. fans would probably so. It’s a masterpiece because it is – simply put – a great collection of catchy pop songs, interspersed with nice, soothing, clear ambient sonic pictures. It isn’t emotionally powerful a la DSOTM, and it isn’t weird or complex enough to be thrilling like some of the better Yes albums.

It’s just that I find something good, heartwarming, memorable and just plain positive in every track. No meaning, just fun. Somehow, though, in recent times it became trendy to bash this album – apparently, the year 1977 has become so tightly associated with the “punk revolution” that any kind of ‘pop’ album that seemed to ‘miss the boat’, no matter how good it was, like Steely Dan’s Aja, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, or Eric Clapton’s Slowhand, are bound to get bashed a lot. But these are all solid records, no matter which year they came out in, and so is I Robot.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take it track by track, then. The title track is a solid, if unspectacular, piece of “electronic funk”, possibly influenced by Kraftwerk, but far less minimalistic than whatever Ralf und Florian were doing at the time, so it might appeal a bit more to those who don’t like monotonous monotony. Then the dizzy poppishness starts. ‘I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You’ is funky as well, with Lenny Zakatek on vocals complaining about the, well, the robots, I guess (the title is supposed to mean that good as they are, I… well, whatever, why did I even start to explain that). Unbelievably catchy song, thrilling soft guitar solo, nice shuffling rhythms, expressive voice, what’s not to like? ‘Some Other Time’ follows; ballad mood now, with gentle acoustic rhythms, a haunting flute theme which is later reshaped as a synthesized horns theme – boy, is that time uprising, solemn and mystical.

Allan Clarke enters with a raunchier and sharper delivery on ‘Breakdown’: getting funky again, but in a different way, far more ‘robotic’ and ‘cold’ than on ‘I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You’, which is only natural, because the latter song is supposed to be sung from a “human human”‘s perspective, while ‘Breakdown’ is the complaint of a nearly robotized human being about his fate. I don’t want to say it’s a “rocker” or anything, because as soon as I say ‘it’s a rocker’, somebody is sure to say ‘what kind of a fuckin’ rocker is this if it doesn’t rock at all?’ and spoil all the picture. No, it hardly ‘rocks’, although it does amount to a crescendo, but it’s still impressive.

‘Don’t Let It Show’ is perhaps the album’s tackiest moment – a typical Seventies’ pathetic orchestrated ballad along the lines of Billy Joel, but pathetic orchestrated ballads are crappy when they substitute their pathos and orchestration for melodies, and this one doesn’t. Heck, I’ve heard David Bowie sing far worse ballads than this one (and on some of his better albums, too). The vocal melody can’t be beat: a couple listens and you’ll be humming ‘don’t let it, don’t let it show’ like mad.

‘The Voice’ comes in with gruffer, more dangerous overtones and funky wah-wah guitars again, but essentially it’s more of an atmospheric number, and it really works: put together a fat, ominously throbbing bassline, randomly spruced percussion effects, gloomy synth orchestrations, and isolated guitar runs, and you get an excellent musical landscape that actually could stand on its own against any kind of Floydian atmosphere.

The short proto-trip-hop instrumental ‘Nucleus’ ensues (which should be revered if only for the fact that it is proto-trip-hop – just listen to that beat, will ya?), and then goes into another, this time typically Floydish, ballad, ‘Day After Day (The Show Must Go On)’. Isn’t it funny that one of the songs on The Wall is entitled ‘The Show Must Go On’, and another of the songs begins with ‘day after day…’? And I’m serious about it: I don’t have the least doubt that Mr Waters spent quite a bit of time sucking in I Robot before laying down the basics for The Wall. I can’t prove it, but it’s a deep conviction inside me.

And finally, two more instrumentals end the record – the chaotic, apocalyptic ‘Total Eclipse’ (another DSOTM reference???), and the stately becalming pomposity of ‘Genesis Ch. I V. 32’. Don’t rush out to grab your copies of the Old Testament: Chapter One of Genesis has only 31 verse, so the title supposedly suggests some kind of ‘continuation of creation’, or just simply a hope for a new and better life.

A wonderful album indeed; this and Tales are proof enough that the songwriting duo of Parsons and Woolfson had a lot going for them and don’t deserve such a poor reputation. And as a minimum, my humble opinion is that every serious fan of Pink Floyd should buy a copy of I Robot. Unless, of course, your favourite Floyd member happens to be Dave Gilmour, in which case you should probably just buy a robot.

June 3, 2013 Posted by | The Alan Parsons Project I Robot | | Leave a comment