Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Damon Albarn's 'Everyday Robots' Blurs Line Between Stately and Sleepy -- Album Review

Album Review

Damon Albarn
Everyday Robots
Spotify link

After repeatedly listening to Damon Albarn's rather muted and contemplative solo album since its release a fortnight ago--when I actually bought the CD despite being able to hear it unfettered through Spotify--I appreciate the quality of the effort.

Both observational about the travails of the digital age and introspective about Albarn's own life, Everyday Robots sounds like much more than a tossed-off project to fill time between reconvening Blur, re-creating Gorillaz, putting together supergroups like The Good, The Bad and the Queen and writing operas such as 2012's Dr. Dee.

For those willing to take the time, there is much here to like. The title track about how "we are everyday robots on our phones," lead single "Lonely Press Play" also about digitized isolation, an upbeat song (the only one) about a baby elephant called "Mr. Tembo"--see video below--and the closing Brian Eno collaboration "Heavy Seas of Love" attest that one of the prime progenitors of BritPop can still write songs both lovely and affecting.

But in full, Everyday Robots is just too sonically dour--in comparison to many of its songs, slower Blur cuts like "This Is a Low," "Death of a Party" and "No Distance Left to Run" are positively lilting--for me to truly enjoy and embrace it. At least as of yet.

I don't know that this is an album I will come back to often, but as I only came to fully appreciate the brilliance of Blur years after their 1990s heyday--in part because Albarn's meditative, heavily Anglo-tinged tunes didn't saturate American shores like those of their more overt rivals Oasis--I wouldn't be too shocked if I increase my esteem for it over time.

At this point I consider Everyday Robots a great album to play as background music at a dinner party attended by musically literate people, but not an album I find truly great in the acute sense.

Appreciating that if Albarn wanted to make a Blur album he would have--with undoubtably much greater sales, especially in the UK--I can't condemn Everyday Robots for being more the album he wanted to make than the one I wanted to hear. (Blur, who hasn't released a full album new material since 2003, supposedly did some studio recording in between concert dates as recent as this January, but no firm album plans have been cited.)

Given my esteem for Albarn--primarily through Blur; I don't know much Gorillaz--I'm glad I sought out and bought his first solo album in a pop vein. As I said above, there is much to like, even appreciate.

Just not enough to love.

Here's the new video for "Mr. Tembo," featuring the baby elephant that was the song's inspiration:

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