Record review: Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots (2014, LP)

damon albarn everyday robots

Damon Albarn has always been an eclectically-minded soul, even if the gulf in public exposure between his most well-known work with Blur and his lesser recognised side projects and collaborations is as big as Britpop circa 1995. From producing Bobby Womack’s last record, to opera and a variety of Clash fantasies channelled through Gorillaz and The Good, the Bad & the Queen, the 46 year-old Englishman has dipped his toe in many a musical puddle since Blur’s 1991 debut. The most obvious absence from his glittering resume has been a solo record, and it’s a gap Everyday Robots fills with aplomb, although anyone hoping for the mock cockney goofiness of Blur’s heyday or the electro-pop of Gorillaz will be disappointed. Instead, this is an album of a more reflective and subtle nature, and one that explores Albarn’s love for African rhythms and Caribbean-flavoured melodies, carried off with the luxury of control and freedom not available to the majority of other recording artists. He begins by railing at the overuse of hand-held devices on the disjointed title track, before becoming entrenched in melancholy on ‘Hostiles’ and ‘Lonely Press Play’; the latter holding just enough of a hint of reggae rhythm to prevent it wallowing too deeply in the mire. ‘Mr. Tembo’ – written for an orphaned elephant he met in Tanzania – sees him enjoying himself in a much lighter fashion, as an infectious ukulele riff combines with Gospel harmonies to make the most playful track here. The seven-minute ‘You & Me’ could be a microcosm for the entire album; a story of regret and paranoia set to apathetic piano lines being uplifted with a steel drum mid-section that allows light to flow in through the gloom of Albarn’s lyrics. Elsewhere, the well-connected singer can’t resist a collaboration or two, as Brian Eno pops up to sing a lullaby-like verse on laid-back closer ‘Heavy Seas Of Love’ and Natasha Khan (Bat For Lashes) provides eerie background vocals on ‘Selfish Giant’. It’s unclear why it took this long for Albarn to make a solo album, especially when he was recently quoted as saying he gave producer Richard Russell 60 songs for the record. In the end it doesn’t matter; this is the sound of a man making an album exactly the way he wants to, even if it does make you think he should have given it a stab a long time ago.

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