If someone was deliberately trying to drain my wallet, one could hardly concoct a more diabolical scheme than releasing remastered CDs of classic ELO and Alan Parsons Project albums, with extra tracks and bonus material, at the same time. This is indeed happening, and all under the watchful eye (in the sky?) of Sony, no less. As a preamble, I’ve always felt that if you’re already a fan of either ELO or Alan Parsons Project, you’re primed to be a fan of the other. Musically, they’re miles apart, with the lyrical and thematic gloominess of Parsons and Project partner Eric Woolfson counterpointing Jeff Lynne’s “Mr. Blue Sky” cheer. But stylistically, these two very different groups are in the same ball park: lush orchestration, banging against the walls of what constitutes rock and threatening to leave a hole big enough for classical to seep into the room – to say nothing of mesmerizing overdubbed harmonies and widescreen production. I’ve always loved both.
Released in 1977, I, Robot is the Project’s second album, but its first for the Arista label, which would release the rest of the group’s output until it disbanded in 1990. (Sony’s acquisition of Arista and its back catalog is what brought these remastered editions about; the rights to the groundbreaking first album are held by Mercury, which will capitalize on remaster fever by reissuing that album as a double-CD set later this year.) While at times this album seems to be trying a little more self-consciously to “fit in with the times” (“The Voice”‘s brief dive into disco territory, “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”‘s funky rhythm section), it’s also surprisingly forward-looking for relatively mainstream ’70s prog rock.
In addition to the outstanding original album, presented in crystal clear remastered sound (coincidentally, with the help of Jeff Magid and Tim Fraser-Harding, who oversaw the recent ELO remasters), which upon more recent listening has withstood the test of time better than I think I’ve previously given it credit for (despite elements that clearly mark it as a creation of the 1970s), there are a few early demo recordings and instrumental mixes. There’s a fantastic instrumental of “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”, missing only the vocals and Ian Bairnson’s ferocious guitar solo, as well as demos of “Day After Day”, “Breakdown” (sounding almost like a soulful ballad) and “I Robot” itself, the latter being a weird experiment using the sound of metal balls bouncing. “The Naked Robot” is a medley gathering instrumental bits, pieces and snippets from several of the songs, including a great many elements and ideas left on the cutting room floor, never to be heard in the final album.
The booklet itself is a wealth of information, revealing that Parsons and Woolfson actually approached Isaac Asimov to sound him out on the idea of basing a prog rock opera on “I, Robot”, but since any adaptation rights were tied to the long-stalled film rights, they had to knock the comma out of the title and adjust their thematic approach every so slightly. The book also pins a lot of the group’s success on the coincidence that I Robot arrived in record stores immediately on the heels of Star Wars with a robot on the cover and a futuristic theme in its music. It might be true, who knows? But it certainly didn’t hurt that it was a great album to begin with.
- I Robot (6:02)
- I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You (3:23)
- Some Other Time (4:05)
- Breakdown (3:53)
- Don’t Let It Show (4:25)
- The Voice (5:23)
- Nucleus (3:22)
- Day After Day (The Show Must Go On) (3:57)
- Total Eclipse (3:12)
- Genesis Ch.1 V.32 (3:30)
- Boules (I Robot Experiment) (1:59)
- Breakdown (early demo) (2:11)
- I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You (backing track rough mix) (3:29)
- Day After Day (early stage rough mix) (3:41)
- The Naked Robot (10:19)
Released by: Legacy / Arista
Release date: 2007 (originally released in 1977)
Total running time: 62:51