Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots
Debut solo album of understatement and maturity that never completely leaves low gear
It’s taken him more than two decades in the music industry to arrive at his debut solo album, which leads us to the rather strange experience of hearing sometime Blur frontman Damon Albarn’s new release being trailed with terms like ‘long-awaited’, as if he hasn’t been a more than prolific recording artist with a wealth of collaborators over the last decade. Although in some minds this record might promise a blank slate, it actually draws together many of Albarn’s most familiar concerns.
Witness the jaunty ‘Mr Tembo’, a whimsical track that recalls its composer’s sonic obsession with Africana and his long-held interest in reflecting his home country: ‘domes, satellites, football pitches, faded flags and lots of dogs, a neon cross on top of a block of flats and a church’, he recites at one point, a typically English psychogeographic shopping list. In tone Everyday Robots is most like a Blur album, but shorn of Graham Coxon’s crackling guitar and the boisterous rhythms of Alex James and Dave Rowntree. The title track is a sad and weary mantra set to a lazy hip hop beat and what sounds like a whistling repeated cello line, with Albarn’s familiar boyish croak mourning ‘everyday robots on our phones … out there on our own’.
The record never completely shifts from this low gear, which might leave some feeling underwhelmed, but it really is a work that demands an open-minded listen. ‘Lonely Press Play’ is a fizzing slow groove that recalls Terry Callier; ‘The Selfish Giant’ approximates a counterintuitive kind of orchestral country mood (Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan contributes understated backing vocals) and the Brian Eno-featuring ‘You and Me’ is utterly compelling, a heroin dirge that bounces along upon an eternally descending electronic whistle.
The mood is dragged towards a grave fug near the end, with downbeat ballads like ‘Hollow Ponds’ and ‘History of a Cheating Heart’, before rallying with the eventually upbeat gospel of ‘Heavy Seas of Love’. It closes an album that revels not in overstatement or triumphalism, but the studious sonic endeavour and emotive maturity that Albarn’s career has thrived on of late.