Album review: Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots

By Chris Schulz

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Well, he certainly took his time. After all, Damon Albarn's been nothing short of prolific during his post-Blur period, delivering cartoon hip-hop with the Gorillaz, releasing four soundtracks of varying quality (bonkers monkey opera Journey to the West, anyone?), forming superior supergroup The Good, the Bad and the Queen, and working on so many guest appearances and world music projects it's a wonder Wikipedia can keep up.

But this is the first time Albarn's released a studio album under his own name - a point Everyday Robots' press release goes to great lengths to make. "The 12 songs here are the most soul-searching and autobiographical since his musical journey began," it begins, before writing its own review with phrases like "intimate," "strangely compelling" and "never predictable, always imaginative".

You need far fewer cliches to describe Everyday Robots: It's definitely a down-scaled record that exists in its own self-contained world, one that Albarn's happy to populate with haunting atmospheres, sweeping orchestras, strange samples and morbid musings about the dangers of love and technology.

One workmate quipped its low-fi hip-hop soundscapes could be the beginning of the "sad-hop" movement - and Albarn does sound seriously depressed here.

"The hours pass by, just left on repeat," he mourns on the shuffling broodiness of Hostiles. "I had a dream you were leaving ... when every atom in the universe is passing through our lives," he mumbles grumpily on The Selfish Giant. And he saves his biggest mopes for The History of a Cheating Heart, when he complains: "I carry this on my back." No wonder Albarn looks so hangdog on the album's cover.

But Everyday Robots also comes with moments that are strangely addictive: Photographs' slow-motion throb sounds like something The xx would happily dance to, the title track combines a horror movie atmosphere with genuinely heartfelt lyrics, Lonely Press Play sounds like a Gorillaz outtake that's just missing a De La Soul verse to elevate it to greatness, while the chirpy instrumentals Parakeet and Seven High deserve more exploration.

It's not all doom and gloom: Everyday Robots comes with two bright moments that help lift the mood: Mr Tembo, a track that gathers all of Albarn's world music knowledge - and the Leytonstone Pentecostal City Mission Church Choir - for one of those uplifting grand gestures he obviously gets a kick out of delivering, while Heavy Seas of Love delivers a beautifully upbeat, gospel-tinged, singalong closer that ends things on a high.

You have to ask, why not more of those? They might have helped Everyday Robots shake the feeling that it's a decent starting point for a solo career that promises much, but gets bogged down in introverted introspection. Put in context, next to a career filled with as much boundary-breaking work as Albarn's, that has to be viewed as something of a failure.

"Who is he?" is another question raised by the album's blurb. He's either a sad man trying to release a happy album, or a happy man trying to release a sad one. Either way, it seems Albarn's tried on so many hats, he might have forgotten which one's his own.


Verdict: Blur front man finds time to go solo
Click here to buy Everyday Robots.

- NZ Herald

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