Damon Albarn, front man for Blur, Gorillaz, and numerous other permutations and groups, has released his first solo recording. Albarn has always come across as the friend you know who is never busy, yet does more than anyone you know. Everyday Robots is a much more personal yet grander set of tunes than anything he has released before. The recording was produced by Richard Russell (Owner of XL Recordings), and features contributions from Brian Eno, Natasha Khan and the Leytonstone City Mission Choir. The disc entered the British Charts at #2 and has produced 5 charting singles.
The release is thoughtful music that spans the genres of Reggae Gospel and Soul. Every song is based somewhere in Albarn’s life. A personal album, that is almost like a conversation between Albarn and the listener. The over arching theme is man versus modern day machine and its accessories. It almost struck me as a soundtrack to midlife crisis. The question of what is important and are we letting the things once and still important slip. Is the cause our marriage to our smart phones and the internet that divorce us from people and reality?
The title song, “Everyday Robots” is a techno glich fest with guitars and piano gliding over the top. The lyric “We are everyday robots on our phones”, is the indicator of where the disc is headed. Albarn is asking the ultimate question of who is in control. Man or machine.
“Hostiles” Questions the “us vs. them” phenomena that modern life perpetuates. The idea of the faceless other that is not the same as us permeates the song. Albarn said the idea of hostiles came to him from video games where the opposition is called hostiles. Song reminds me thematically of XTC “Across this Ant heap” on Oranges and Lemons.
“Lonely Press Play” – Tackling the topic of isolation and the individual. Technology helps to easy loneliness but also creates the isolation in the first place.
“Mr Tembo” – A really nice segue into this sweet upbeat song, probably the happiest place on the disc. This song originates off a song Albarn sang to a baby elephant he met in Tanzanian zoo. Great world beat reggae feel to the music
“Parakeet and Seven High” are both less than a minute noodles, kind of intermissions between some bigger songs.
“The Selfish Giant” – great bass intro, a subdued ghostly song, with an ethereal Natasha Khan singing backup. The song comes off as Albarn possibly trying to reconcile a dream and what is really going on in a relationship. Lyric “had a dream you were leaving, it’s hard to be a lover when the TV is on.” Theme being technology distracting from actual real life relationships.
“You and Me” – Brian Eno played synth and provided the back vocals. A moody hypnotic song.
“Hollow Ponds” – Song lyrically is about the 1976 drought in Albarn’s hometown. A sweet ode to childhood reminiscence.
“Photographs (You are taking now)” – Boiling down the song to the message of carpe diem. Nice acapella intro. “Photographs” along with “The History of a Cheating Heart” are a great duo and both quiet songs that grow on the listener the more frequently you listen.
“Heavy Seas of Love” – I didn’t think I would see the day Damon Albarn does a gospel tinged song, it is really good. The interaction of his singing with the Leytonstone City Mission Choir is a highlight of the disc.
I really didn’t know what to expect in a solo effort from Albarn. Taking into considering the vast span of collaborations he has had with various artists from recently passed Bobby Womack to Composer Michael Nyman. I was not sure what part of the musical map he would land on for a solo effort. I was pleasantly surprised by the result. It is a quiet retrospective record, but songs stay with the listener and call for repeated listening.
The disc is not a complete declaration about Albarn, instead it is a piece of the puzzle to the entire picture of the man.
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