Album Review: Damon Albarn “Everyday Robots” (2014)

For a man who has been in the music industry for over twenty years, it is quite surprising to find that Everyday Robots is Damon Albarn’s first solo album. Up until now, Albarn has had quite a varied career, a career which has seen him have great success with Blur and virtual band Gorillaz, while has also seen him work on one-off collaborations such as the Good, the Bad & the Queen and Dr. Dee. Such as the musical variety Albarn has explored in his career, it makes this first solo album all the more intriguing to see how the solo Damon Albarn measure’s up to the rest of his work.

The sound of Everyday Robots I would say is a mash-up of Good, the Bad & the Queen and Gorillaz, although there are moments where you can hear Blur, as well as Albarn’s work with African musicians. Already some music critics have been labeling the sound of Everyday Robots as “sad-hop”, which after listening to the album, I can kind of see where they are coming from. Overall, there is a trip-hop feel throughout, especially with the drum machine backbeat that drives a lot of the songs, however most of the songs tend to have more of a mellow melancholic vibe going on, while Albarn’s piano playing has a classical jazz feel to it in the mould of someone like Keith Jarrett. I would say that Everybody Robots is quite an atmospheric album with a strong focus on mood rather than melody on most of the songs. The music and lyrics come across as quite personal and introspective and it’s as if Albarn is opening himself up in a way he has never done before, giving us an insight into his very person, a person whom he has kept guarded over the years. As for personal, well it is pretty much just Albarn on his own singing and playing piano and guitar, although, aside from a small array of session players, Brian Eno makes an appearance, while the Leystone City Mission Choir sings backing vocals on a couple of the tracks.

As for the tracks themselves, well the album begins with the title track “Everyday Robots”, which has a Plastic Beach-Gorillaz sound to it with a gentle piano part, strings, sound effects and a trip-hop backbeat. This is followed by “Hostiles”, which returns by in large to the Good, the Bad & the Queen’s reflective melancholia all be it with a strong trip hop injection. “Hostiles” is not a standout track by any means, and actually comes across as quite labored and somewhat boring. Then there is one of the album’s standouts “Lonely Press Play”, which could even be one of Albarn’s best tracks in recent years. This one certainly has a film soundtrack kind of vibe to it with a kind of casual beauty in its piano lines and string flourishes. “Mr. Tembo” is the only real up-tempo song on the record, and interestingly enough is about a baby elephant which Albarn met in Tanzania, leading to what is quite a playful but throwaway lyric. The song features Albarn on ukulele, a pounding bass line, and some great gospel-infused backing vocals from the mission choir in what is a very bubbly track that offers a nice break from the downbeat stuff.

The middle of the album kicks off with “The Selfish Giant” which has a folktronica feel in which Albarn delivers quite a soulful vocal. It also showcases Albarn’s gentle piano playing with a nice classical-jazzy solo in the middle. “You and Me” is the longest track on the album and is quite a moody affair almost like a short story with quite vivid lyrics as Albarn appears more as a narrator rather than singer, while “Hollow Ponds” is a very melancholic reflective track which sounds quite Nick Drake-like in mood and Ray Davies in lyrics. There is not much going on musically on this track, but it represents another tender moment which also features some nice French horn playing. The final few songs on the album begin with “Photographs” which is a standard trip hop track with quite a Massive Attack feel to it. This is followed by “The History of a Cheating Heart”, which is another track which doesn’t really go anywhere and that the album could have really done without. Finally, the album closes with “Heavy Seas of Love” that features Brian Eno on vocals and has a stellar chorus which I can just imagine becoming a sing-a-long fan favorite at festivals. This track is one of the album highlights and is an example of how good a pop writer Albarn can be when he chooses to be. And although Eno is not known for his singing, he does a nice job here adding a different dimension to proceedings with his rather dark eccentric vocals.

Overall, I feel Albarn has done a solid job with Everyday Robots without being outstanding. There are some very nice melancholic moments on the record, while his musicianship is a standout feature in the form of his piano playing especially. A couple of the songs do end up being a bit of a bore, while the presence of two short instrumentals is a blot on the album’s landscape, however, these lesser moments are countered by some of Albarn’s best work in recent years. I would say Everyday Robots compares well to his work with Gorillaz and has shown that Albarn can go it alone and be just as successful musically.

– Sam

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