It’s finally happened. After so many years and so many projects driven by his leadership, Damon Albarn has at last released a solo album. The way his sound has evolved over the past decade or so has been exceptional: if you compare Blur’s ‘Parklife’ with Gorillaz’s ‘Empire Ants’ you fully realise how much he has contributed to the UK’s musical input. I mean honestly, Modern Life Is Rubbish is miles away from Demon Days, and I can assure you that Everyday Robots only expands the Albarn spectrum. There are elements one can recall from his previous work, but as a whole it’s his most distinctive material to date.
The album starts with the title track that fuses together a violin, a bass guitar, a piano, samples, harmonies, and various mediums of percussion including (what sounds like) a bloody glockenspiel. The way the various components are interlocked is brilliant, and while each one separately is quite simplistic their coupling is rather spectacular. However the strongest point of the track, and indeed the whole record, is the lyricism. I know. I couldn’t believe it myself. ‘Everyday Robots’ possibly doesn’t match up to the vocal quality of ‘The Selfish Giant’ later on, but lines like “Everyday robots just touch thumbs, swimming in lingo they become stricken in a status sea” mark the poetic nature of Albarn’s solo attempt. What heightens this is the relevancy of his words: I know too many people who obsess so much over their social networking output that their own relationships only become ‘official’ once it’s listed on their Facebook profile. That’s really quite sad.
‘Hostiles’ demonstrates Albarn’s lyricism once more, linking in sampling not dissimilar to that heard on Gorillaz’s debut. ‘Lonely Press Play’ emphasises the personal level of the album: it is clear the subject matter is particularly close to its composer due to the constant indications of the world surrounding him. ‘Mr Tembo’ takes the album from subtle splendour into high-spirited sing-along, and marks the record’s most Gorillaz-esque track by blending synth with ukulele, along with a gospel choir that adds its own unique ingredient.
After the brief interlude of ‘Parakeet’ we arrive at the album’s pinnacle, ‘The Selfish Giant’. It’s sensitive, it’s flowing, it’s rhythmical, and it’s extremely striking. The delicacy applied to each instrument is oddly comparable to how Guy Garvey harnesses his work, a sound so distant from Albarn’s typical work. His personal references to “Argyle Street” and his experiences of heroin that continue into the following ‘You And Me’ (“Tinfoil and a lighter, the ship across”) amplify the autobiographical nature that runs through each track. Gradually each section creeps its way into the mix before the voice arrests us, allowing us to lose ourselves in his world. Gently we are nudged towards his smack days, and while the piano continues to carry us through the song it almost seems like Albarn’s claims of creativity due to the drug are exemplified. Again in ‘Hollow Ponds’, reminiscent tales are brought forth (“Modern Life was sprayed onto a wall in 1993”) that directly refer to and feed our insight into his past.
‘Photographs (You Are Taking Now)’ joins the title track in condemning the new generation’s mundane reliance on technology. The hip-hop techniques of a sub-bass and sampling that serve as a foundation throughout the LP are prominent, but the final two tracks, ‘The History Of A Cheating Heart’ and ‘Heavy Seas Of Love’, abandon this approach and favour melodic guitar and piano. The former is basically your obligatory acoustic track, while the latter rounds off the album with a resounding chorus that might be found in a Broadway score.
In all seriousness, I’m found this album tremendously hard to write about because of its unique sound. I can’t compare it with anything apart from Albarn’s previous work and possibly Elbow. It’s infuriating, but weirdly comforting that he can take basically any genre and combine it with another so gracefully. Although it sounds basic on the first play, there are so many layers meshed together that make Everyday Robots a beautiful album. It’s definitely not a record that you can listen to while travelling (as I stupidly found out), or while accomplishing any sort of activity all together. Set aside some time and have a good old-fashioned listen to fully appreciate this delightful and absorbing collection.
IN SHORT: Lyrical genius from Albarn, coupling with a multitude of tantalising moments heard by a stunning layering of instruments. Don’t bother if you only find ‘Song 2’ and ‘Feel Good Inc.’ at all pleasurable.
Check out: Everyday Robots, The Selfish Giant, You And Me below:
Reviewed by John Kuzara
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