Stalked By The Disco Robot

Proto Prog Pretentious Disco Funk; it was all the rage in 1977 sweeping all other genres before it.  Glam? take that! Punk? Ha, fools! Heavy Metal? Thwackkk! It conquered all before it, banishing memories of the 1960’s, destroying upstarts like Pink Floyd and in fact becoming not only the dominant force in popular music, but arguably the predominant discourse in human communication on the planet.  Happy days.

Yup, we’re looking at The Alan Parsons Project I Robot.  Alan Parsons being the ace engineer on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, he and Eric Woolfson came up with the concept of producing LPs in a similar manner to film directors, basically without any of those pesky strong-willed musicians having an equal say in what went on and overriding all his brilliant ideas, cluttering up the place and not washing their cups out properly after making coffee.  So pausing only briefly to recruit most of Pilot, Steve Harley (sans Cockney Rebel) and Lenny Zakatek and sweet talk Isaac Asimov into acquiescence our plucky hero leapt into action.

Music to watch droids by ...
Music to watch droids by …

It’s a damn strange album too.  My expectations were Floyd-lite and yes there are elements of that, the tracks run into each other and the boys are lurking in the closing instrumental ‘Genesis CH.1 V.32’ and the, nice but too fey for me, ‘Day After Day (The Show Must Go On)’, but somehow, from somewhere Mr Parsons brought da funk, and dropped a disco grenade into the mix and wrapped it all up in a cover made by Hipgnosis on a bit of an off day.

Take the opening tune of I Robot, called umm ‘I Robot’.  It starts off as your standard off-the-shelf dystopian far future jungles-growing-over-the-decaying-ruins-of-civilisation instrumental track, then two minutes in a keyboard motif somehow begets pure funkalicious funkism, but in a conceptual its-all-about-robots way.  My favourite part is when the tymps make like an alarm clock.  I really just think it’s excellent.  As is the second track, ‘I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You’, sung by Karachi born disco/R&B singer Zakatek.  What a storming track! Disco funk with some great guitaring in the mix too, let’s face it I could never see Roger Waters swinging this way, despite the sentiments which come straight from Floyd’s ‘Money’,

Back on the bottom line
Diggin’ for a lousy dime
If I hit a mother lode
I’d cover anything that showed
I don’t care
What you do
I wouldn’t want to be like you

Danceable cynicism – what’s not to like here? Sadly, it all gets really rather wonky for a bit after such a good start.

Behold, the beard!
Behold, the beard!

‘Some Other Time’ is far too wussified for me and ‘Breakdown’, well is a bit … I’m not sure, what starts off as a perfectly average progish song, suddenly introduces the massed ranks of the English Chorale and gets all stentorian on our asses; sounding by the end a little like the climax of a clumsy rock opera dealing with one man’s rebellion against an authoritarian, probably Soviet, state.  Very odd, but not in a good way.  As for ‘Don’t Let It Show’, it’s just dire – I could imagine Elaine Paige, or Susan Boyle doing this one.  ‘Nuff said.

Luckily it snaps back to form a little on the second side.  ‘Voices’ with Steve Harley, singing a brilliant mean vocal across a taut, disco beat and a keyboard sound stolen wholesale from Rick Wright when he wasn’t looking.  Essentially, as far as I can gather it is about and really sounds like being stalked by a disco robot.  True story.  Ambient fiend that I am, I’m also very fond of ‘Nucleus’ too, which sounds exactly like a nucleus does, probably.  Okay so the breathy ‘The Show Must Go On…’ has grown on me since I wrote my third paragraph tonight, but there you go and then ‘Genesis Ch.1 V.32’ seals the deal with dome portentous guitar.

Alan Parsons Robot 04

The concept, such as it is, washes over me a little and this really is a stunningly mixed bag, but when it hits right Proto Prog Pretentious Disco Funk (capital letters, all the way!), hits funkily hard.  Bonus 1537 points get deducted for a) the prioritising of profundity over profanity in the lyrics and b) printing the lyrics in white against a mushroomy colour inner sleeve so as to make them almost completely unreadable. Bahhh!

360 Down.

Some profound out-of-focus stuff about robots
Some profound out-of-focus stuff about robots

P.S: Okay, I admit it I am cheating here I only bought I Robot a month after I started the blog; but hell I am omnipotent here, don’t bother me with your petty rules, foolish earthlings!

15 thoughts on “Stalked By The Disco Robot

  1. This is my only Alan Parsons and gets few spins, but I have to say, when Pat Benatar covered “Don’t Let It Show” two years later on her debut album, she nailed it. It remains one of my all-time favorite female vocal performances.

  2. The Alan Parsons Project has always been a hit or miss group for me. I’d say a couple tracks per album were all I could stomach. But in terms of sonics, the albums were second to none. He was a precursor to guys like Nigel Godrich, and even Rick Rubin, as far as producing and engineering albums went. They were pristine without feeling suffocated under mounds of compression. I use the term “group” loosely with APP, as it wasn’t really a group. Like you said it was Parsons assembling bands the way he wanted them to look. Pawns more than band members really.

    I have to say, as a kid I was overwhelmingly moved by Eric Woolfson’s voice. “Time” always made me extremely maudlin as a kid. And “Eye In The Sky”? I still feel like a kid in the backseat of my parent’s car when I hear it. Damn you, Eric Woolfson. Damn you.

    1. Funnily enough I’ve never heard another note the APP have ever done, so I remain untouched by Eric Woolfson. There are some real quality nuggets here.

      1. I am really shocked by this. I assumed every home in Wales was equipped with a tea kettle, crumpets, and a copy of Eye In The Sky. What’s wrong with this world?

        “Time”, “Eye In The Sky”, and “Don’t Answer Me” make me melancholy every time I hear them.

    1. I love the book too. As Asimov had already sold the film rights, the way they got around that for this LP was to take out the comma from ‘I, Robot’; I love details like that.

      1. Interesting little things like that haunt me at night!

        I wonder why it took them so long to make the film. Which was pretty awful, by the by. Not as bad as The Bicentennial Man.

        In fact as far as I’m concerned, the best homage to Asimov’s robots series was A.I. which was pretty much completely unrelated — except for stealing numerous ideas.

      2. That book is still so far ahead of the curve, all the best golden-age sci-fi is, because regardless of their conception of future tech they wrote so well about the human condition and what could and would alter that.

  3. Well I am here to say that I bought the record and I really liked it. I think I bought AC/DC Let there be Rock at the same time so between “Whole Lotta Rosie’ and “Breakdown’ which had put next to each other on a mix tape. You now know why I had to quit the hard stuff

    1. It doesn’t quite do it for me, but there are 5 or 6 great tracks here – especially Voices and I Wouldn’t Want ..

      Much easier to dance to than Floyd!

      1. I would agree. Everyone in a while I look back at some of the records I have purchased and thought to myself “What in the hell was I thinking when I bought this”

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