My Robot Friend was already a couple of years into his career before I accidentally found the original 2002 version of his debut album Hot Action! on sale in a record fair, and by this time I was already aware of some of his better known tracks. Having started out as a MySpace musician, he seems to have made a name for himself by making excellent, eccentric music, and not a lot else.
The album opens with the beatsy and somewhat intimidating I Am the Robot, and if you can handle its energy, you’ll quickly realise that it’s actually fantastic. Then Sex Machine will always have a special place in my heart, thanks to its inclusion on the brilliant Robopop Vol. 1 compilation (which I should definitely review here at some point). It’s a little more vulgar than I normally like my music to be, but it’s another brilliant track.
There’s little here that’s longer than three minutes, and so the great tracks come flying. You’re Out of the Computer tells the story of an angry hacker who has a grudge to bear against a rival. One general theme on this album is very eccentric samples, and the dog barks used as thwacky snares at times on this track are particularly brilliant.
Why Won’t You Call Me Back? is probably one of the more normal tracks on here, but it still hides some very odd lyrics, lots of telephone noises, and a whole load of other things in amongst the acid noises and guitar work. OK, this is every bit as odd as everything else.
However used you might be, five tracks in, to the unexpected samples, there’s very little that could prepare you for the table tennis percussion of The Power of Love. It’s quite fantastic, and there’s really no point in any further discussion on the matter.
After the sudden end of that track, anything could happen. But there’s no way you would ever expect the soft synth pads of the amazing We’re the Pet Shop Boys. It was so good, so accurate, that not only Pet Shop Boys themselves covered it the following year, but also Robbie Williams covered it on his Rudebox album. It’s completely spot on – every sound, melody, and lyric seems to have been designed to directly reference something that Pet Shop Boys themselves did. It’s not a pastiche; it’s a carefully crafted and perfect homage, that reaches its pinnacle in the middle section, in which Mr. Robot Friend holds his nose to make himself sound a bit more like Neil Tennant, and lists some of Pet Shop Boys‘ hits.
Really, anything was going to be a disappointment after that – those first six tracks seem to have been fighting one another to out-bizarre each other, and that had to reach its pinnacle by the halfway point on the album. Sure enough, Understand Your Man is a bit dull, which I suspect would have been true at any position on the album, but it’s particularly true here.
The good stuff is far from over, though – The Fake tones down some of the oddness but makes up for it by being a great song, and then I Know What Women Want brings it back and builds a whole song around very silly samples and acid noises. But it’s the lyrics that are truly brilliant here – “I know what women want; I decide what women want” is clever stuff.
But there are a lot of tracks on here, and after the onslaught at the start, there was bound to be a bit of a period where they didn’t quite hit as hard. For me, this is the trio of Boing!, Way Down, and Walking Jewish, none of which seem entirely necessary on here, really. They’re mercifully short, but they don’t seem to add much.
But the thing about My Robot Friend is that he always seems to have one more surprise up his sleeve, and sure enough, Walt Whitman is brilliant. It’s not a typical closing track, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a great song, and I’m glad to see it tacked on here, closing out this exceptional debut.
None of the physical formats of Hot Action! appear to be available any more, but the digital release does get you some extra tracks, which may be worth having.