Damon Albarn may just be the hardest-working man in show biz. He was the frontman of popular ’90s alternative rock band Blur, the vocalist and main songwriter of experimental-electro band Gorillaz and collaborated with other artists on various musical projects. The man has even composed an opera. I mean, is there anything he can’t do? There seemed to be only one thing the multitalented artist was missing: an official, full-length solo album. But as of now, he can cross that off his list.
In many ways, Albarn’s first solo album “Everyday Robots” is reminiscent of his earlier projects. It contains the soulful instrumentation and breezy vocals found in his work with Gorillaz, and the droopy harmonies that many have come to associate with Albarn. His signature moody charm works well with “Everyday Robots,” which is a commentary on the lifeless advancement of the technological age that has tampered with the magic of genuine, human connection.
The album’s opener and title track begins with the line, “We are everyday robots on our phones / In the process of getting home / Looking like standing stones / Out there on our own,” which establishes the album’s theme of technological isolation. Albarn is wary of the path our generation is taking, and expresses this in several songs like the smooth jazz, pop-piano sustained “Lonely Press Play” and the mournful “Photographs (You Are Taking Now).” Almost every song is a dreamy whisper, encouraging listeners to come closer to hear just what Albarn has to say. One of the album’s highlights is the hauntingly beautiful “Hostiles.” Featuring a lovely array of minor chords conveyed through the acoustic guitar, “Hostiles” speaks about the loneliness of alienation due to technology. The possibilities are endless and I doubt that any two people would interpret Albarn’s songs exactly the same.
Deemed as one of Albarn’s most personal works yet, “Everyday Robots” doesn’t peer as deeply into his soul as one would think. In the 7-minute track “You and Me,” Albarn incorporates a languid, trap-hop beat to softly graze upon his heroin use. In the song “The Selfish Giant,” he mentions his drug use once more with lyrics like, “Celebrate the passing drugs / Put them on the back seat while / They’re coursing in your blood.” Albarn also shares some events from his childhood, such as a scorching heat wave in 1976 and the scenery around his environment growing up in “Hollow Ponds.” Albarn does little else to shed light on his personal life or struggles with drug abuse. He does this almost as if to reiterate the album’s message: In the technological age, no one is truly open emotionally, and Albarn’s decision to shy away from spilling all of his secrets strengthens this theme. His lack of personal truth might upset a diehard fan hoping to cling to every little piece of him, but detracts nothing from someone hoping to just hear good music.
Blur fans will definitely enjoy “History of a Cheating Heart,” a story about a lover scared to completely fall in love, featuring Albarn crooning, “If you fall then I will put you back / I do love you but it’s just a fact / The history of the cheating heart is / Always more than you know,” alongside the simple picking of an acoustic guitar. He picks up the pace with the upbeat, cheerful track “Mr. Tembo,” a song about a baby elephant he saw while visiting Tanzania, and the closing track “Heavy Seas of Love.” It’s uplifting to hear Albarn closing the album with a song that gently pulls the listener out of his hypnotizing melancholia with optimistic lyrics and a beat begging the listener to clap along. He sounds hopeful as he sings about everyone coming together, and speaks on the fact that we have a chance to find the beauty of real, human connection again through the power of love. Albarn changes his forlorn tune and tells us that we’re really not doomed to be “everyday robots” because humans will always crave real emotion. We just have to allow ourselves to create personal connections without the help of technology.
This album will certainly be heavily placed under a microscope simply because the expectations for a musical polymath like Albarn are insanely high. Instead of breaking under the pressure, Albarn does what he does best: make good music. He doesn’t try too hard, and he doesn’t take the listener on a journey of unfamiliar sounds. It’s Albarn through and through — well, the parts he’s allowed us to see, anyway.
Rating: 4 Stars