It’s hard to buy the fact that “Everyday Robots” is Damon Albarn’s first official solo album. In Blur, his clever songwriting was the spirit of Britpop that bit its lip at surrounding English culture. While the Gorillaz were comprised of cartoon characters on paper, Albarn was behind the scenes building freaky sounds that merged alternative rock, world music, electronic music, and rap to make one of the weirdest pop formulas in recent memory (over 8 million albums sold worldwide). In fact, how many people who bought the self-titled debut album of his super group The Good, The Bad, and the Queen were Blur and Gorillaz fans? No matter what he’s involved himself in, whether that be singing pop music, producing for soul legend Bobby Womack, or composing operas based on the life of Elizabethan doctor John Dee, Damon Albarn has had the spotlight on him (whether he has wanted it or not). Perhaps all of that time in the bright light has made him focus on the blackness surrounding him, because he has certainly had his share of alienation.
“Everyday Robots” is the most autobiographical piece of music Mr. Albarn has created since he first (reluctantly) pinched the sound of The Stone Roses 23 years ago. Described by Albarn as “folk-soul,” electronic instruments and piano loops are mixed with African drums and chants, while Albarn lays his heart out in an aching croon. The title track that opens the record is haunting, with the ever-observant Albarn seeing others “looking like standing stones,” as we drive aimlessly or tap away at our phones. He notes his faults in a relationship as he sits alone with his record player on “Lonely Press Play.” “The Selfish Giant” roams in spacey synthesizers with Albarn “waiting for the final call,” as he notes “it’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on.” The 7-minute “You & Me” is probably the darkest song here, where Albarn briefly sees heroin burn in tin foil as he waits to bleed out. However, another case could be made with “Hollow Pond,” where light picks of an acoustic guitar and an organ create a funeral-like mood for Albarn to mourn over his adolescence. Albarn is so vivid in his lyrics that the listener could close his eyes and see Albarn sitting next to him with his head buried in folded arms.
Albarn and co-producer Richard Russell have created a rich but mournful setting through the sound on this record. There are more musical elements of Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad, and the Queen here than any of the bounce Blur had, but maybe that’s the point. Albarn, who has doubted the possibility of another Blur record since their reunion in 2008, has made so many musical left turns in his career that “Everyday Robots” plays like the biography of a completely different person than the man behind “Girls & Boys.” While it would be interesting to hear that cocky wiseass comment on the pop culture trends of today, this snapshot of Damon Albarn is fascinating from beginning to end. The music is modern and beautiful and the lyrics are full of dread and bare emotion, adding up to the British equivalent to Beck’s “Morning Phase,” which is just about 2 months older than this album. While this has a space-like atmosphere than Beck’s acoustic delivery, “Everyday Robots” is a fascinating look into the mind and heart of one of music’s modern renaissance men alone with his thoughts.
Final Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars