Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.29.2014
Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn steps out on his own at last for a thoughtful reflection on technology, life, love and more! But is it worth your time? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
1. "Everyday Robots" (3:57)
2. "Hostiles" (4:09)
3. "Lonely Press Play" (3:42)
4. "Mr. Tembo" (ft. The Leytonstone City Mission Choir) (3:43)
5. "Parakeet" (0:43)
6. "The Selfish Giant" (ft. Natasha Khan) (4:47)
7. "You and Me" (ft. Brian Eno) (7:05)
8. "Hollow Ponds" (4:59)
9. "Seven High" (1:00)
10. "Photographs (You are Taking Now)" (4:43)
11. "The History of a Cheating Heart" (4:00)
12. "Heavy Seas of Love" (ft. Brian Eno & The Leytonstone City Mission Choir) (3:44)
Damon Albarn has long been at the forefront of the music industry. The London singer and songwriter rose to prominence with Blur, who along with Oasis became the poster children for the Britpop movement of the early 1990s. While most American listeners know Blur for the omnipresent "Song 2," they were creating great music throughout the early part of the decade. Once Blur was more or less done with, Albarn moved on to form Gorillaz, the "virtual band" whose experimental style influenced the direction of alt-rock in several ways. Albarn has gone on to another side project since that group, a supergroup that released The Good, the Bad & the Queen in 2007.
Few people have had Albarn's level of success in moving from project to project, but there's always been the sense that there's something more underneath. Albarn is the sort of artist who has Things To Say, as the old story goes, and he's always seemed like someone who--as good as his band work has been--might just be best able to say them if he strikes out on his own. That leads us to today and his debut solo LP Everyday Robots, which sees Albarn visiting his past while he tries to push forward by striking out on his own.
With Everyday Robots, it becomes clear from the get-go that you're not going to be finding a dramatic stylistic change. A lot of the elements that Albarn has become known with are here in this album, though they're brushed into the album's canvas more like highlights than primary colors. Albarn has always been an artist that has shown a distinct interest in the relationship between humanity and technology and it's an increasingly common topic these days. Whether you're at the cinema watching Her, listening to the rise of EDM and IDM in music or even just at home reading your technology-related news on an iPad or Samsung Galaxy it's an inescapable topic to consider. Albarn is overt about this on Everyday Robots, starting right with the title (and opening) track. "We are everyday robots on our phones/in the process of getting home," Albarn sings over a typically smooth blend of trip-hop beats and moody and light piano arrangement, and it sounds like the kind of obvious metaphor that would make you roll your eyes. But it works because of the delicate touches of the lyrics and Albarn's inflections over the down tempo track. It's classic Albarn, but it doesn't just lean on what he's done before; it draws inspiration and elements from that body of work and pushes forward.
Albarn's ability to invoke moods is exceptional and the low-key art pop sensibility on Robots is in put to good use in service to the album's themes. "Hostiles" is minimalist yet effective; "Lonely Press Play" is an absolute highlight, with hints of jazziness behind the dulcet synths while Albarn ponders on isolation and how technology might even be a cure for that sometimes. Just when you think the album's going to stay entirely low-key, it goes into the strummy and upbeat sounding "Mr. Tembo." If anyone can make a song about an orphaned baby elephant work in the midst of an album like this it's Albarn, and somehow he does. But after a brief breakdown interlude we're back into a downbeat number, the stripped-down "The Selfish Giant." This trio of ups and downs represents the strongest section of the album without question and Albarn has us completely sucked in at this point.
But this isn't to say the back half of the album is bad. There are a couple of lesser tracks, of course; it's not a perfect album. "You & Me" is fine for what it is, but it pushes itself too long; the seven-minute length wears out its welcome by the end. And on "Photographs (You Are Taking Now)," Albarn has a rare production misstep in the early moments with a whining ring just in the background that grates slightly. The lyrics are good but they're not Albarn's best and it leaves the song paled, if only in comparison to the rest of the album. The rest of the back half hits more often than it misses, with the largely acoustic "The History of a Cheating Heart" as a highlight.
Albarn has made a smart album here; it's familiar but it's not a rip-off. Fans of the artist himself are likely to have followed him along anyway; he has proven his versatility through the years. But for casual fans that know a little Gorillaz or Blur and want to know will be likely be satisfied with those elements and intrigued in what else there is that they're not familiar with. It's an intensely personal album, a moody reflection on Albarn's own experiences along with more expansive, philosophical elements. The LP finishes off nicely with the most rambunctious track, the Brian Eno-featured "Heavy Seas of Love," and giving a pleasing closure to a thoughtful and absorbing album.
Skippable: "You & Me," "Photographs (You Are Taking Now)"
The 411: It's taken quite a while, but Damon Albarn's solo debut is very much worth the wait. With Everyday Robots, Albarn is able to take production and songwriting skills to new places without leaving his past behind and the result is quite rewarding. Thoughtful while still being emotional and a little experimental while still accessible, Everyday Robots is well worth the listen.