Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 2-455
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
By 1975, when Alan Parsons and lyricist-songwriter Eric Woolfson formed the Alan Parsons Project, Parsons had firmly established himself as a record producer and engineer. He’d been nominated for a Grammy for his engineering of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which he produced, and had engineered albums by Paul McCartney and Wings, Al Stewart, the Hollies, Jeff Beck, Roy Harper, Peggy Lee, and Ambrosia, among many others -- including the Beatles’ Abbey Road. He was uniquely qualified to handle the recordings he and Woolfson created, for which they brought in various players and singers.
Woolfson and Parsons were fond of concept albums. Their first outing, Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allen Poe (1976), was based on Poe’s eerie writings. Their second, I Robot (1977), examined the implications of artificial intelligence. The album got heavy airplay on FM rock stations, and enjoyed a big hit with “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You.” Not surprisingly, Alan Parsons Project albums were well recorded, and I Robot remains an audiophile favorite.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab reissued I Robot on vinyl in the early 1980s and now has done so again, this time on two 45rpm, 180gm discs, as well as on SACD/CD. My point of comparison for the new vinyl edition is an early US pressing from Arista Records.
From the first notes of the opening, title track, it’s clear that Parsons learned about dynamics and electronic keyboards from Pink Floyd, but he adds some of the loose fun of disco. The keyboards build, layer by layer, throughout “I Robot,” and on the MoFi pressing the soundstage is far more expansive than on the Arista pressing, which sounds very good. On the MoFi, however, the instruments are much more clearly separated -- and when the choir enters, it’s set off better.
The throbbing sound of the electric piano that begins “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You” is more enveloping on the new pressing, and the muted guitars that build in intensity around it have more fullness and edge. The bass, already strong on the early pressing, is much more impressive here and throughout the four sides of the pressing, with more impact and definition.
The synths played in “Some Other Time” place I Robot firmly in the 1970s, as does the multitracked guitar solo, but the amount of detail and depth of soundstage revealed by the MoFi pressing let me hear more of what’s going on in the arrangement -- and the voices of Peter Straker and Jaki Whitren have more life and are thus more expressive. “Breakdown,” which receives lots of play on FM radio to this day, benefits from more thumping bass and more resonant drums, in addition to a more holographic presentation of the voice of Allan Clarke, of the Hollies.
The low-end synth in “The Voice” has more impact on the early LP, but it’s tighter on the MoFi, and gives the voices and instruments more space. The percussion spread across the soundstage is more firmly presented on the new vinyl, and the handclaps in the witty disco section ring out more clearly.
Overall, this new pressing of I Robot makes it a bigger-sounding, more impressive record. The keyboard washes in “Nucleus” are spread across a wider canvas, and the kick drum behind them has more impressive punch. Andrew Powell’s string and choral arrangement for his composition “Total Eclipse” seems performed in a deeper, wider venue; this lets me better hear the various sections of the choir, and gives the strings more room. The keyboards in “Genesis Ch. 1 V. 32” are better separated, and the acoustic-guitar chords chime with more authority and reverberation.
One of the ironies of I Robot is that its progressive-rock elements -- the electronic keyboards and processed guitars -- now sound somewhat dated, while the late-’70s disco touches still sound fresh. On this pressing I can more clearly hear why Parsons and Woolfson chose to use certain keyboards, and so the complexity of their arrangements and ideas comes through better.
Pressing this album on two 12”, 45rpm discs has given the music more life, space, and openness, and the two LPs of my copy were flat and free of surface noise. The heavy cardboard jackets are up to MoFi’s usual high standard, with vivid reproduction of the original cover art.
Nearly 40 years after its release, I Robot holds up well, for the most part, and this new pressing from Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab brings me closer to the music.
. . . Joseph Taylor