Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 04.29.14 in Reviews

Everyday Robots

Damon Albarn

Damon Albarn is often at his best when he sounds the most tired — “This is a Low,” “Tender,” “Out of Time.” It’s a peculiar quality for a rock star, but it somehow suits this exceptionally hardworking, opera-writing, perpetually collaborating frontman of Blur, Gorillaz, and the Good, the Bad and the Queen. His first genuine solo album is comprised almost entirely of these physically spent and spiritually searching songs, as if he wrote and recorded each of them at the end of long and exasperating days.

Mixing the old and rootsy with the new and digital

Some people just get more real and revealing when they’re at the end of their rope, and it seems that happens to Albarn on Everyday Robots. “We’re everyday robots on our phones/ In the process of getting home,” are the weary words with which he opens the album, and they’re set to a drudging piano ballad that flushes with strings and clink-clonking percussion that evoke Chinese classical music, as if modern man’s electronic portables were haunted by the ghosts of the factories where they’re manufactured.

Like Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man in the Universe, the similarly debilitated yet robustly soulful 2012 album Albarn produced with studio cohort Richard Russell, the singer mixes the old and rootsy with the new and digital. The traditional component here comes most often via the melancholy acoustic guitar plucking and mournful melodies of traditional English folk that Russell contemporizes with crepuscular computer beats and glistening hi-fi effects. Even when Albarn’s knackered, he keeps the music moving, detouring into African gospel (“Mr. Tembo,” about a baby elephant), piano jazz (“The Selfish Giant”), and Brian Eno-esque art-pop (the closing track “Heavy Seas of Love,” which features chorus vocals by Eno himself). “When the twilight comes/ All goes round again,” he sings softly in “You and Me” after a particularly lovely steel drum solo, like the entire album was one long lullaby to a child locked inside himself that longs to slumber.