Everyday Robots

9 May 2014 Music

Everyday Robots

 

Damon Albarn

Damon Albarn has always been an eclectic soul, even if the gulf in public exposure between his best-known work with Blur and Gorillaz and his less-recognised side projects and collaborations is as big as 1990s Britpop. From producing Bobby Womack’s 2012 comeback record to a variety of Clash fantasies channelled through Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad & The Queen, the 46-year-old Englishman has dipped his toe in many a musical puddle since Blur’s 1991 debut album.

The most obvious absence from his glittering resumé has been a solo record, and it’s a gap Everyday Robots fills with aplomb – although anyone hoping for the mock cockney goofiness of Blur’s heyday or the electro-pop of Gorillaz will be disappointed. Instead, this is an album of a more reflective and subtle nature, exploring Albarn’s love for African rhythms and Caribbean-flavoured melodies. It’s carried off with the luxury of control and freedom not available to the majority of recording artists.

Albarn begins by railing at the overuse of handheld devices on the disjointed title track, before becoming entrenched in melancholy on ‘Hostiles’ and ‘Lonely Press Play’, the latter holding just enough of a hint of reggae rhythm to prevent it wallowing too deeply in the mire. ‘Mr Tembo’ – written for an orphaned elephant he met in Tanzania – sees him enjoying himself in a much lighter fashion, as an infectious ukulele riff combines with gospel harmonies to make the album’s most playful track.

The seven-minute ‘You and Me’ could be a microcosm for the entire album: a story of regret and paranoia set to apathetic piano lines, yet uplifted with a steel-drum midsection that allows light to flow in through the gloom of Albarn’s lyrics. Elsewhere, the well-connected singer can’t resist a collaboration or two, as Brian Eno pops up to sing a lullaby-like verse on the laid-back closer, ‘Heavy Seas of Love’, and Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes) provides eerie background vocals on ‘The Selfish Giant’.

It’s unclear why it took this long for Albarn to make a solo album, especially when he’s been quoted as saying he gave producer Richard Russell 60 songs for the record. In the end it doesn’t matter; this is the sound of a man making an album exactly the way he wants to, even if it does make you think he should have tried it a long time ago.

Paul McBride

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