Damon Albarn, the renaissance man of modern British indie rock, releases debut LP.
Though it's far from revelatory, the Blur and Gorillaz frontman's first (official) solo album contains enough magic to warrant interest from fans and well-wishers alike.
Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots (28/04/14 via Parlophone)It was quite apparent, watching Blue headline Glastonbury back in 2009 after their triumphant reunion tour, that Damon Albarn was (finally) happy. Having spent the nineties building an empire as the alternative face of brit-pop, he then went to to completely revolutionise the face of pop music with his 'cartoon band' Gorillaz, but it seemingly took the Blur reformation to really allow him to see the wood for the trees. Subsequent bands, musicals and operas (really) followed in it's wake, but that Sunday night was surely the peak of a life well lived. And this low-key, decidedly sombre solo album is the fallout from that euphoria. A gorgeous, muted sigh that sounds at once like its creator is close to giving up, and yet has so much left to say. Those who fell in love with Blur songs such as 'This is a Low', 'No Distance Left to Run' and 'Out of Time' will find much to enjoy here, and even if you never enjoyed the more forlorn side of Albarn's muse, the melodies and invention here can't possibly be denied. Albarn adopts a muted vocal delivery here, which makes him sound like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. This couldn't be further from the 'cheeky cockney' isms of Parklife, this is resolutely grown up stuff, apt for a man who recently celebrated his 46
th birthday. The album and its title track opens with a sample from 'Lord' Richard Buckley; an influential American comedian who performed as a send-up of British royalty. Buckley's voice is heard twice more throughout the album, perhaps providing a thematic spine, a spine I have honestly yet to decipher, but do look forward to doing so. The song then lurches into life over a soft melody and gently, treated beats. It's a wonderful song, but then there are no duffers here really. The highlight is probably the Natasha Khan featuring 'Selfish Giant' though. It's a gorgeously complex song with cascading, jazzy piano lines and some wonderful harmonies provided by the woman known to the wider world as 'Bat For Lashes'. Albarn's affinity for left-field hip-hop is littered all over this album, with certain cuts (especially the brief interlude 'Seven High') sounding as if they could almost have fallen off a long lost J Dilla or Madlib record (vocals notwithstanding of course). There's also an almost vaudevillian glamour hinted at by the frequent use of piano and Brian Eno's heavy production and orchestration, which posits the record as a uniquely transatlantic experience. Lyrically meanwhile, Albarn seems preoccupied with the technological disconnect at the root of the modern man, “It's hard to be a lover when the TV's on” he croons on The Selfish Giant, and as the title track proclaims, we are all just “Everyday robots on our phones.” Sure it's hardly an original thought, but it's put across in a convincing way over some subtly inventive arrangements. Everyday Robots is not just an album for Blur and Gorillaz fans, it's an album that speaks to a deep and profound fear in an (aptly) very human way. This is a fear that was articulated so universally by Radiohead's OK Computer almost 2 decades ago, and the message is even more poignant now than it was then. It's also perhaps Albarn's most tuneful album yet, and proves that musucians growing up gracefully doesn't have to mean churning out bland approximations of the glory days. Indeed these ARE the glory days!