There’s no doubt that what Damon Albarn is really about is the music. After Blur, Gorillaz, many side projects with artists like Bobby Womack and even a few operas (Dr Dee), Albarn has released his first studio album under his own name.
Co-written and co-produced with frequent collaborator Richard Russell, Everyday Robots is an album whose message seems to be ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’. This is to be expected of someone who has rallied against TV shows like Glee and The X Factor.
Listeners who have grown up with tracks like The Universal and On Melancholy Hill will know that sombre music comes naturally to Albarn. Naturally, contemplative mid-tempos with some interesting soundscapes dominate the album.
Albarn’s belief that technology will turn people into soulless robots is apparent in the title track. Its sampling of American entertainer Lord Richard Buckley’s comedic gibberish is a metaphor for the last bit of spontaneity in humanity before the monotony of modern life, which is depicted by an unsettling violin riff and a steady piano-driven rhythm.
Hostiles and the bass-centric second single Lonely Press Play are both burdened by a sleepy, zombie-like vibe that is strangely alluring. They are supported by Russell’s percussion, which evokes the sounds of typewriters as if to highlight how meaningful one-on-one communication has broken down as more people play on their phones.
Things lighten up on Mr Tembo, named after an elephant Albarn saw in a zoo in Tanzania and written as a gift for his teenage daughter Missy. It’s not one of his greatest lyrics, but it carries a nice sentiment as an enthusiastic choir sings along in the chorus and Albarn even raps!
One album highlight is the epic You & Me, which is really two songs in one: the downtrodden first half whose percussion sounds like the deadened sound of a marching army, and the subdued second half with its bright steel drums, subtle R&B trap music influences and some real hooks (‘blame me, blame me, blame me’).
Another gem is Hollow Ponds, a mundane reflection of Albarn’s life. The sound effects portray his resignation in accepting that things have changed, with sounds taken from his local train station and school playground. Albarn continues to lament the decline in genuine human interaction on Photographs (You Are Taking Now) (which includes a trippy Timothy Leary sample), a veiled attack on people obsessed with sending photos online.
Finally, the upcoming single Heavy Seas Of Love is a feelgood, drunken sea chanty featuring the vocals of legendary producer Brian Eno and the Leytonstone City Mission Choir (which Albarn saw as he was growing up). The decaying handclaps at the end sound final and close the album on a high note.
Everyday Robots is quite a personal album and is essentially a solo record, even if Albarn doesn’t like the term ‘solo’. It also demonstrates why he was the recipient of the 2014 NME Award for Innovation: it reflects Albarn’s recent musical direction with a few glimpses of his prior projects without repeating the past.