Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots (2014) Review
Former Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn has recently released his solo debut, Everyday Robots, and it was well worth the wait. Following in the wake of fellow Blur member Graham Coxon in recording solo material, Albarn’s melancholy effort takes the best aspects of his emotional songwriting, alternative elements from his days with Blur and trip-hop styles from his work with Gorillaz and turns it into a masterpiece of alt-rock.
Starting with the namesake track and lead single to the album, Albarn previews his use of samples from all forms of media and stripped bare instrumentation in a song filled with subtle musical nuances and heavily social messages. “Everyday Robots” is a perfect way to open the album, with just enough uniqueness to draw you in, but leaves you wanting to hear what else he will throw at you. “Hostiles” is one of the standout tracks on the album, being driven by a melancholic guitar arpeggio before his deeply personal and emotional lyrics enthrall the listener. The chorus is a profound and melodic and is a perfect example of the melodic and vocal prowess that Albarn possesses. “Lonely Press Play” is a perceptive love song that was the perfect choice for a second single. The way Albarn expresses his deepest emotions in both first and second person reflects the uncanny ability for him to appeal to the listeners’ emotions while still presenting an incredibly personal touch throughout the song. “Mr. Tembo” is a positively upbeat folk number, with an uplifting message and catchy melody the track will no doubt be a radio staple. It also provides enough complex layering and impressive instrumentation to appease fans and critics alike. “Parakeet” is a “Modern Life is Rubbish”-esque interlude that ties the more mainstream start of the album with the more experimental middle tracks.
“The Selfish Giant” is perhaps the most personal song on the disk, talking about love lost and the ability for him to be, as the title assumes, a selfish giant. With piano leading the instrumentation with a hard hitting back beat, his deep and mellow vocal style appeals to the emotions, and the way his lyrics relate to most everyone who will listen to the track makes this another gloriously grasping track, and another highlight of the album. The electronically influenced, atmospheric “You and Me” crafts a world around you, and in the 7:05, Albarn and guest vocalist Brian Eno weave an intricate and melancholy image before grasping you tight with a memorable climatic piano solo and a refrain of “All goes round again” that attaches itself to the emotion core and twists it into a beautiful tearful grief, as well as any soft emotional piece of alternative music will. It is yet another stand out track from the disc. “Hollow Ponds” continues with the minimalistic approach, and yet again provides the listener with an intensely emotional and gripping piece of writing. “Seven High” is another short refrain to transition from the ambient mid-section of the album to the more classically alternative final tracks. Starting off the final section of the album is “Photographs (You Are Talking Now)” is a soft alternative jam, mixing the electronic experimentation found throughout the album, mixed with sampling also experienced and sombre backing vocals from Eno. Just as personal as other tracks, Albarn’s carefully crafted lyrics and vocals are a pleasure; his deep british vocal style is perfectly exemplified in the 4:44 of “Photographs”. As the track progresses a heavier electronic/trip-hop style grabs your attention and softly lets you down, awaiting the final tracks of the album. Following is an emotional guitar driven ballad in “The History of A Cheating Heart”. Perhaps the softest track on the album, it provides an opportunity to gain insight into Albarn’s personal life through deeply expressive lyrics and a divine simplicity. The minimalist vibe of the song only enhances the personal lyricism, and is a mature retrospective look at his actions though his career. To finish the album, “Heavy Seas of Love” instantly draws you in with a glorious melody accompanied by piano. As another single from the album, the uplifting message that “Heavy Seas” provides is a perfect clincher to the album. Mixing the folk simplicities and intricate layering of the album into a typical alternative masterpiece, with soft sections progressing into loud and a radio-friendly sound, it is a representation of the beauty of the disc. It showcases the best Albarn has to offer, perfect sampling, catchy melodies and a melancholy sound, making you only want to track back to the first song and listen to the whole thing again.
As far as a debut studio album goes, this effort from Damon Albarn is amongst the best. For anyone who enjoys a blend progressive, folk, trip-hop and alternative will adore this album, just as I did. A must have for any collection; Everyday Robots will be worth every cent you pay for it and is a glorious alt-rock masterpiece. Keep them coming Damon.
– AJ Lienert