Forgive Clash for being so blunt, but would you mind if we just dispense with the naively retrograde hopes held by some that debut solo set proper from one of the definitive voices of his generation would be a grandiose, big-budget blockbusting record that revisits the sounds of Britpop? Because, that is one thing it very much isn’t.
What ‘Everyday Robots’ is, however, is a subtle, textured patchwork covering Damon Albarn’s 45 years to date, with lyrics capturing snapshots of his childhood in Leytonstone through to a song he made up for a baby elephant he met in Tanzania.
Oddly pilloried in some quarters for his sense of musical adventure, it’s worth observing that Albarn may be the most consistently impressive songwriter of the last couple of decades, and ‘Everyday Robots’ is littered with evidence that his title should be safe.
Having worked with XL owner and renowned producer Richard Russell on 2012’s wondrous Bobby Womack album ‘The Bravest Man In The Universe’ (Clash’s number one LP of 2012), Albarn opted to put himself in the solo spotlight and leave his friend behind the desk.
Russell’s signature stripped-back sound is all over ‘Everyday Robots’, but it serves the songs well. Little touches like the piano motif from the title track (video below) reappearing at the end of album-closing Brian Eno collaboration ‘Heavy Seas Of Love’, or the gradual hastening of the beat at the end of ‘Lonely Press Play’ to cue in ‘Mr. Tembo’, are a delight.
Albarn appears to be railing against the technological oppression of 21st century living, whether proclaiming that “it’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on” on ‘The Selfish Giant’ (featuring Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes) or exploring the idea that humans will evolve to the point where their hands only have strong scrolling thumbs.
Musically, the penchant for subtle melody that he has explored so well through The Good, The Bad & The Queen and some of the less chart-conquering Gorillaz material burns bright. The seven-minute sprawl of ‘You And Me’, another Eno collaboration, seems to be mooching along demurely before dropping down to a steel drum from which it rebuilds, sounding like the fuzzy early hours of a summer’s morning and topped with a fragile falsetto that provides the album’s highpoint.
The phrase ‘slow-burner’ is tossed around rather carelessly, but ‘Everyday Robots’ is a definite contender. Weeks on from the first listen, it feels like it’s always been there. It doesn’t burn out so much as creep up and these songs offer yet another new guise for a remarkable talent.
Words: Gareth James
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