CD Review of I Robot by Alan Parsons Project

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I Robot (30th Anniversary Edition)
starstarstarstarno star Label: Arista
Released: 2007
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Now that's what I'm talking about. This CD gets a great rating not because the music is that stellar. It ain't. It's merely hit and miss, but we'll get to that in a bit. This is a four-star CD because it does what a reissue needs to do: Justifies repurchase by the fans who bought the original. This record was a studio creation crafted by Beatles and Pink Floyd engineer Alan Parsons in conjunction with colleague Eric Woolfson, who sang some lead but more importantly wrote the songs, the foundation upon which Parsons created some wonderful soundscapes.

The 30th anniversary reissue booklet features entertaining and concise essays that lend context to the music. Like, for instance, I was aware this album came out in 1977, and Star Wars came out in 1977, but I never put the two together. The liner notes explain how -- especially with the robot on the cover vaguely resembling C-3P0 -- the wild success of George Lucas's film helped spur sales of I Robot. There's explanation of Woolfson's complicated relationship with I, Robot author Isaac Asimov. Parsons and Woolfson break down the contents of the quite relevant and cool bonus tracks, which shine a bright light on the creative process, especially "Boules," an early demo of the title track, in which Woolfson used a sound effect created with the French equivalent of the Italian bocce balls or British lawn-bowling balls. The effect got left on the cutting-room floor, but the roughness of the demo reveals just how much production sheen Parsons put on the final tracks, and how much of the music-making process he contributed. Great stuff.

As for the music, when it's good, it's great: "I Robot" is a contemplative synth-driven instrumental that would have fit perfectly well on Dark Side of the Moon. Another instrumental, "Nucleus," probably launched a thousand ambient records in the 1980s and 1990s, along with a whole genre of computer programs sprouting up just to duplicate the effects Parsons built in to the track with painstakingly manual methods. "Nucleus" leads into "Day After Day (The Show Must Go On)," an absolutely stunning Woolfson-sung ballad.

But when the music's bad, it's bad: "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You" and "Breakdown" are completely soulless funk tunes under the guise of progressive rock. In an era where Kool & The Gang, Bootsy and Parliament, and George Duke roamed the earth, there's just no excuse. The Alan Parsons Project should never have messed with the funk; they need to be held accountable for inspiring hordes of suburban white kids to play lesser, even more terrible music -- or worse yet, covers of Alan Parsons Project songs. And then there's "Don't Let It Show." Meat Loaf, on a bad day, could write a better cheesy ballad. Even Parsons, Michelangelo behind the boards, couldn't make a silk purse out of this sow's ear.

Whether or not one likes every song, two indisputable elements of the 30th anniversary I Robot make it memorable: Alan Parsons' virtuoso production -- which still sounds like art in a computer-aided age where we've forgotten how hard this music was to make back in the pre-PC era -- and solid liner notes. A lot of reissues rip off fans and collectors, but on this one Arista and the band give us our money's worth.

~Mojo Flucke, PhD