Rockin' Our Turntable: Damon Albarn's 'Everyday Robots'
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on May 15, 2014 4:30PM
Photo by Linda Brownlee
On the surface there are no huge surprises on Damon Albarn's first "official" solo album, Everyday Robots. His penchant or drawing on influences from all corners of the globe without watering it down into "worldbeat" is on strong display here. Since putting Blur largely on hiatus, Albarn has split his time between leading Gorillaz, composing film soundtracks, curating and participating in the Mali Music project, and collaborating in a number of "supergroups," including The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and Rocket Juice & The Moon. Through all of this he's gravitated towards a more subtle approach, mixing sounds from all across the globe with electronic experiments. It's an omnivorous approach that Albarn filters through his exquisite sense of editing and control and while many of his projects are quieter and less immediately rewarding in more obvious ways, than either Blur or Gorillaz, but we've found almost all of his work pays off greater dividends one you allow it to overtake you.
This is certainly true on Everyday Robots, which spends most of its time in a realm of quiet introspection. What's remarkable here is that while in the past these soundscapes would support character studies of third parties, this time around they're providing a bed for Albarn to deliver, at times quite starkly, confessional lyrics that allow one of the most straightforward looks inside of an artist previously focused on providing more oblique references to his inner workings.
This isn't to say Everyday Robots is all minor keys and ballads. For instance, the bouncy "Mr. Tembo"—based on an orphaned baby elephant Albarn met in Tanzania— is pushed along by an uptempo little tune bolstered by a choir whose smiles you can positively see in their singing. However even this happy song draws upon his previous skill at character studies to convey a deeper story. Is "Mr. Tenmbo" just a song about an elephant Albarn met? Yes, it is. But it's a song he wrote for this this little elephant, conveying a proud resilience and identifying with a resolve to keep moving forward, even in the direst situations. As Albarn sings, "It/' where he is now, but it wasn't what he planned."
It's that theme of acceptance through self-reflection that carries the album. And it's Albarn's quietly resolute approach that makes this exercise universally accessible instead of mired within navel gazing. Many other singers who turn towards the confessional often convey emotion by exposing themselves to recklessly the listener totters between feeling empathy and embarrassment. This does not happen on Everyday Robots.
Albarn's skill at creating multilayered, emotionally realized characters throughout the years has made him a master storyteller. In his hands, his own story—his own exposure of his inner turmoils—is immediately embraceable by the listener and never threatens to embarrass the subject or the audience. There is no cheap trickery here needed to create a true feeling of genuine openness. Immerse yourself in these tales from the heart, floating in music pulling most of Albarn's genre-jumping impulses into a cohesive whole, and you will find yourself happily exposed to something grand and glorious.