I discovered John Mitchell’s attractive take on modern prog when I heard It Bites’ “Wallflower” on a Prog Magazine cover CD, then bought and was floored by 2012’s Map of the Past. John Beck, Bob Dalton and Lee Pomeroy are essential to the success of that fine album, of course — but Mitchell’s yearning vocals, sharp guitar work and classy songwriting sealed the deal for me. Whether contributing to Frost* or masterminding his own Lonely Robot, Mitchell consistently brings irresistible melodic hooks, exciting riffage, heart-on-sleeve lyrics, passionate singing and meticulous craftsmanship to the table. Like John Wetton in Asia and Trevor Rabin in Yes, you can rely on him for a canny, immersive mix of strong musical substance and broad appeal.
Radio Voltaire revives Kino, Mitchell’s 2005 collaboration with Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas; Beck provides tasty keyboard work, while Craig Blundell (Steven Wilson, Lonely Robot) whacks the drums with energy and aplomb. True, the blissed-out album opener/title track is a low-key start, but Mitchell’s “The Dead Club” fires things up without further adieu, laughing at the lengths people go to for fame (to a 7/4 beat,yet):
Mitchell comes up with some of his best songs in a while, breaking your heart with the haunting ballads “Idlewild” and “Temple Tudor,” then shocking it back to life with four-alarm rockers like “I Won’t Break So Easily Anymore” and the tense “Grey Shapes on Concrete Fields.”
Trewavas chips in as well, providing welcome contrast and optimistic uplift with “Out of Time” and “I Don’t Know Why,” mid-tempo Beatlesque gems that build and build until they explode:
And (always important in prog-pop), Kino sticks Radio Voltaire’s ending: “Keep the Faith” is a warm Trewavas love letter to the next generation, with his McCartney-style melodic bass lines setting up both Mitchell’s delectable vocals and an unexpected orchestral surge in the song’s home stretch. But hard-won serenity isn’t the final word; that goes to Mitchell’s “The Silent Fighter Pilot,” a lament for a unexpected casualty of war that deploys extremes of quiet and loud to devastating effect.
In sum, Radio Voltaire pulls you in and doesn’t let go till an hour later, when you return to life challenged, refreshed and invigorated for having heard it. Check out Mitchell & Trewavas’ track by track take on the album here. But above all, listen to it for yourself; it’s a winner.
— Rick Krueger