Release Date: Apr 29, 2014
Record label: Warner Bros.
Damon Albarn was the last person planning a Damon Albarn solo album. And yet, after wildly successful runs with Blur, Gorillaz and a host of other one-off projects that included a monkey opera, here he is with Everyday Robots, his first ever solo album. Overseen by producer and XL label boss Richard Russell, Everyday is an admittedly personal effort by the 46-year-old.
Dissecting and analysing our relationships with technology, Damon Albarn‘s message on his first solo album (no, Gorillaz, Democrazy and The Good, The Bad and The Queen don’t count – though there are fleeting similarities in more than just obvious ways) Everyday Robots may be overt, and it may be well-worn by comrades, acolytes and messrs across the galaxy, but that doesn’t make it any less pertinent, nor does it reduce the gravitas of Albarn’s take. A deft songwriter to the core, Albarn laments but never wallows, and he proffers an astute critique of modern society and our fascination of and reliance on technology. It’s not exactly subtle in its presentation – have a guess at the meaning behind the title Everyday Robots – but it’s timely and essential nonetheless.
Four years ago, Damon Albarn was pacing the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, trying desperately to forewarn us of the polyethylene apocalypse. Frustrated, he implored the crowd to sing along to “Pirate Jet”, a Gorillaz song about industrial gluttony. Few did. They were much more obliging when, on that very same stage the previous year, Albarn had sweated and bawled his way through the Blur reunion.
It's hard to believe 20 years have passed since Britpop turned the U.K.'s music scene on its head. In the following two decades, many of the movement's mainstays have either accepted defeat and returned to their day jobs or tried to rekindle their burned-out careers through shambolic reunions..
We’ve had his state of the nation addresses, both pre-millennial and post-. We’ve had his fantasies of cartoon musicians on islands made of trash. We’ve had his operatic renderings of old Japanese children’s programmes from the 1980s. We’ve had his mumbled demos and African jams. But ….
If there ever were a modern rock star who could be called an auteur, it'd be Damon Albarn. As the leader of Blur, he was responsible for the group's grand themes, taking credit for the birth of Brit-pop circa 1993's Modern Life Is Rubbish, but his signature -- a sly, theatrical blend of melodic post-punk and new wave undercut by electronic exoticism and a thirst for world music -- grew ever more distinctive in the projects he pursued after the group's 2003 dissolution, surfacing in the dystopian future of Gorillaz and the glum present of the Good, the Bad & the Queen. He didn't hide within a collective so much as embrace collaboration, using other musicians to accelerate exploration, with all the different musicians underscoring his own world-view.
For a while, Damon Albarn seemed reluctant to release music under his own name. While working on Everyday Robots, he told NME, “I suppose you could call it a solo record, but I don’t like that word. It sounds very lonely—solo.” Whenever Albarn would step outside of his Britpop heavyweight band Blur to make more music, it was always under one guise or another: Gorillaz, Monkey, Mali Music, Rocket Juice & the Moon, and the nameless supergroup that recorded The Good, the Bad & the Queen.
When a record is labelled as eagerly anticipated, the suggestion is that a significant number of people have been patiently waiting for it for some time. With Damon Albarn’s first solo album, a whole generation has been on tenterhooks for longer than they’d care to divulge. One of the greatest songwriters of this or any other vintage, though Albarn’s output across a slew of definitive bands and increasingly diverse projects has been nothing if not prolific, this is a man so closely wound into the fabric of British culture that any record under his given name was sure to be an event.
At the height of Britpop – when antipathy between fans of Blur and Oasis was at such a level that, the Sun reported, a Bristol woman called Mandy Vivian-Thomas was withholding sex from her husband because he preferred Country House to Roll With It – one of the chief allegations levelled at Blur was that they were somehow inauthentic. Damon Albarn, in particular, dealt in artifice, adopting personas and inventing characters rather than revealing himself. In retrospect, that seems a bizarre thing to get cross about, given rock and pop music has always been about artifice, disguise and reinvention.
Damon Albarn has always seemed most comfortable with some distance between himself and his music. As Blur's frontman, he played the tart-tongued wit, satirizing modern Britain from behind a wall of cheeky irony. With Gorillaz, he created the biggest virtual band since Kiss. Even his forays into global music – jamming with Malian guitar greats, traveling to China to write an opera – place him in the well-worn role of a worldly seeker losing himself in the exotic.
Everyday Robots is—technically—Damon Albarn’s solo debut, a set of intimate tunes made almost entirely on his own, reflecting inward on his personal life. But it’s not really a change of pace. No matter the stylistic dalliance, whether Brit-pop (Blur), electro-pop (Gorillaz), art-rock (The Good, the Bad, & the Queen), opera (Dr. Dee), or Afro-funk (Rocket Juice & the Moon), all of the man’s projects share the obvious thread of Albarnism—an affinity for nagging melody and a spirit of melancholy that wraps you up like a warm blanket.
Over his 25-year career, it’s amazing that Damon Albarn has never released a solo album. Sure, he’s been prolific, with his storied stint leading the Britpop mainstays Blur, as well as his time as 2D, a cartoon alter ego and frontman of visual/music outfit Gorillaz. On top of that, he’s kept busy by being involved in a number of other endeavors, namely the Anglo-centric project The Good, The Bad, & The Queen, one-off stints with noted African musicians, writing operas based on the Chinese five-note pentatonic scale, and producing for revitalized R&B legend Bobby Womack.
Blur singer Damon Albarn has had 20 years of practice perfecting a certain kind of song. It’s a sad song but comfortable in its sadness, the kind of song that might make might you stop in a crowded bar and remember that even beautiful things come to an end. It is grand, but rumpled and a little isolated, too. It has quieter places to be.
Seymour; Blur; Gorillaz; Mali Music; The Good, the Bad & The Queen; Rocket Juice & The Moon; Damon Albarn is not a man to put out a record under his own name when there’s an excuse to form a new band. But after this 25-year whirligig of projects, Albarn's actual, official, proper debut solo album is kind of the musical equivalent of the Higgs boson particle. Sure, nobody has ever actually heard a Damon Albarn solo album before (DEMOCRAZY DOESN'T COUNT).
Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots(Parlophone/Warner Brothers)3. 5 out of 5 stars Between his previous high profile stints as the frontman of Blur, the brains behind funky/techno-cartoons Gorillaz, a member of world music supergroup the Good, the Bad & the Queen and the impetus behind Bobby Womack’s 2012 comeback among many others, it’s startling to realize this is Damon Albarn’s first “pop” project under his own name. Considering the wildly diverse styles the UK musician has dabbled in, often quite successfully, it’s encouraging that he and producer (and XL label owner) Richard Russell have crafted this warm, chilled-out set that rides basically one groove, yet does it exceptionally well.
There's always been something curmudgeonly about Damon Albarn, the Britpop icon and inveterate globetrotter whose work has operated off a twinned sense of awe about the world and bemusement toward the people living in it. Early Blur hits like “Popscene” and “Girls and Boys” were open-minded, but more than a bit testy, while Kinks-style character studies like “Parklife” and “Country House” emphasized Albarn's critical detachment from the everyday narratives the songs depicted. These qualities reach critical mass on Everyday Robots, in which Albarn decisively enters his old-man phase, delivering a depressive jeremiad on the sorry state of our tech-obsessed culture.
As he often did on Blur's early albums, Damon Albarn uses the occasion of his debut solo LP to satirize middle-class life. Right off the top, the eclectic Britpop maestro zeroes in on the pervasiveness of technology by envisioning mobile-phone-addicted hordes "swimming in lingo" in a perpetual, dehumanizing stasis. Elsewhere the album is full of reflective autobiographical detail, so presumably he counts himself among those hordes.
To everyone bellyaching about Blur stonewalling the prospects of that long-awaited follow-up to 2003’s Think Tank: Do any of you honestly believe the reunited Britpop greats will emerge with anything as essential as the trilogy of titles frontman Damon Albarn has fashioned with Gorillaz? Sure, the group could surprise us all with an epic as masterfully crafted as 1999’s 13, but it rarely turns out that way, does it? All you have to do is stream Indie Cindy by The Pixies or Soundgarden’s King Animal on Spotify for proof of that ethos. Especially when you consider that Albarn has just unveiled quite arguably the best album of his career–solo or otherwise–with Everyday Robots. Co-produced by XL Recordings honcho Richard Russell (Albarn’s production partner on last year’s acclaimed Bobby Womack album), the 12 songs that comprise Albarn’s first proper recording under his own name serve as a quintessential cumulation of the amalgam of moods reflected in his post-Blur output—the English moodiness of The Good, The Bad and The Queen, the polyrhythmic sway of Rocket Juice and the Moon—in the form of this most intimate and illuminating collection.
Santana“Corazón”(RCA Records)2 Stars If you believe press releases, Carlos Santana never recorded a Latin album before “Corazón,” the disc that comes out Tuesday. That’s sorta correct and sorta not. True, the legendary guitarist of Mexican descent has never before issued a record entirely cut with singers and musicians marketed as Latin pop or rock stars.
Damon Albarn is the kind of artist who can do a million things all at once, without looking like he even broke a sweat. In his extensive, 20+ year career he has spearheaded various projects like the Gorillaz and the Brtipop legends, Blur. He has dipped his toes in writing music for operas and films and teamed up with musicians from Mali and The Democratic Republic of Congo, creating music across all genres including alt-rock, jazz and Calypso.
Recently, a YouTube video caught Damon Albarn sitting in with a London pub band, the Gents, for a rendition of his Blur hit "Parklife." The bar erupted in boozy camaraderie, off-shift locals getting an unexpected brush with stardom. That's the kind of low-key charm that Albarn's solo debut, "Everyday Robots," is built on. It's an LP full of finely observed tunes about the numbing effects of technology and modernity, produced with care and skill.
There have been clues that Damon Albarn has been moving in the direction of a solo album for some 15 years now. In this time, there have been concepts aplenty: cartoon pop stars, monkey operas, African cultural exchanges and albums about Elizabethan alchemists. Concentrate on signal rather than noise, though, and there’s been the sense of the sometime Blur frontman refining his voice, packing away the laddish yob-rock and arch caricaturing of Blur and working his way towards something mature, melancholic and adult.
Damon Albarn’s been involved in a number of projects since Blur first took a seat on the Britpop bench. He collaborated with Tony Allen and The Clash’s Paul Simonon on The Good, The Bad, & The Queen, wrote a number of albums with the Gorillaz gang, and even founded his own record label, Honest Jon’s. What he’s never done officially, though, is release a completely solo record.
Damon Albarn's first solo album – why, you wonder, has it taken him so long? – begins with a spoken-word sample of the 1950s American hip-semantic performer Lord Richard Buckley: 'They didn't know where they was going but they knew where they was wasn't it'. There are several ways of reading this fragment. Buckley, apparently, was alluding in his original performance to the travails of a little-known Spanish explorer called Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.
opinion byPETER TABAKIS < @ptabakis > What is this thing called Everyday Robots? The answer appears straightforward: the first solo album by Damon Albarn. It’s being marketed as such, and if you squint hard enough, perhaps it is. Of course, you’ll have to forget his other debut collection of solo material, the tossed-off 2003 release Democrazy. That shouldn’t be a problem, considering only die-hard fans (and unlucky music reviewers) have ever heard it.
The UK’s Damon Albarn is today’s Peter Gabriel — able to bridge many genres, from the progressive rock and hip-hop of his acts Blur and Gorillaz to various trip-hop and world music forays. I also enjoyed his operatic album, “Dr. Dee,” and his African field recordings on “Mali Music.” But the new “Everyday Robots” is a major disappointment.