My Robot Friend is almost unclassifiable. How do you explain a robot who grows a human heart and decides to devote his existence to producing dance pop? How can our measly carbon-based human intellects possibly hope to comprehend the sheer greatness of this rogue M.O.D.O.G — that is, a Mobile Unit Designed Only for Getting down?
I have a feeling that there might just be some hipsters out there who don’t understand just how cool My Robot Friend actually is. Well, let’s put it this way: how many artists do you know who could not only pull off a dead on Pet Shop Boys pastiche entitled “We’re the Pet Shop Boys”, but succeed in getting the actual, real live Pet Shop Boys to do a cover of it? Of course, the Pet Shop Boys cover is not actually included on Hot Action!, but it does exist and I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding it if you really want.
The Robot (known to his close friends as Howard) has had some heartbreak in his life. He sings Johnny Cash songs (such as “Understand Your Man”, included on I>Hot Action!) and pines for lost loves. One of the albums very best tracks is the rather self-explanatory “Why Won’t You Call Me Back?”, which begins thusly:
“There’s a lab inside the Pentagon, /
Where secret dark and clever, / Scientists are working on the hardest problem ever, / A million math equations, and still they cannot crack, A very complex question, why won’t you call me back?”
If you can possibly resist the plaintive heartbreak of Our Robot Friend, well, you are made of sterner stuff than myself. The fact that he decorates his love-notes with funky jazz loops, groovy upright-bass riffs and Hammond-esque instrumental flourishes make this robot’s attempt at human communication very, very snazzy indeed.
The album begins with the frenetic start/stop stutter of “I Am the Robot”, a catchy piece of robo-funk that sounds like an outtake off the Talking Heads Remain in Light played at 45 RPM. Here we find the robot’s brilliantly simple thesis statement: “I am the robot, I am the robot, I am the robot in your town, / I am the robot, I am the robot, I am the robot I get down.” What is so wrong about a robot wanting to get his funk on? Nothing that I can see.
After this, the Robot makes his true desires known, announcing to all and sundry that he is a consummate “Sex Machine”. Although he is mostly robot, he still retains the desire to “fuck the human race”. It sounds like he’s got enough lust in his human heart to accomplish just that, too.
The rattle of a computer keyboard morphs into a scattered breakbeat on “You’re Out of the Computer”, which features some kind of stilted paranoid rambling set above a pogo-ready robot-house beat. I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about, honestly, but it sounds like William S. Burroughs got eaten by a Casio keyboard.
Speaking of poetry, the album ends with an ode to the great American Transcendentalist, Mr. Walt Whitman. I can easily understand why My Robot Friend felt the need to write “Walt Whitman”: the Robot obviously struggles between his lusty, human desires and his cold, albeit funky machine nature. Whitman, the most lusting and sensual of our great poets, makes a natural match for our Robot.
Like the great robots of history — Robbie, Commander Data, the Vision — Our Robot Friend just wants to learn the secret of being human. Who knew that the secret of humanity lay in retro-funky computer beats and an evocation of unrequited love?