Friday, 16 May 2014

Album review: DAMON ALBARN - Everyday Robots

Highlights: Hostiles, Lonely Press Play, The Selfish Giant, You & Me


B***pop was better than nothing, and that’s all I’m going to say. I may be as cynical and dismissive about the subject as anyone, but the fact remains: the state of pop culture is so dreadfully numb at this point of time that the overblown 20th anniversary seemed like a genuine event. To which Everyday Robots is a perfect hangover.

Grey setting, tastefully subtle fonts. Stoop-shouldered Damon Albarn sitting on a minimalist chair, having a sad little nap or perhaps just staring at the ground. The ground that wouldn’t even exist were it not for the light shadow cast by Albarn’s drooping figure. Not the most cheerful image you can think of, but somehow there is comfort and warmth to it. As well as a great deal of style. If that is not all description you need, please read on.

This album has five singles. Which is funny, because outside the chorus of “Heavy Seas Of Love” there isn’t much commercial appeal here. Everyday Robots is definitely more substantial than the rather weightless Dr. Dee from 2012, but Albarn’s past glories are left well alone. Apart from that familiar world-weary voice, the aforementioned chorus is the only explicitly Blur-esque moment here. And Gorillaz? Well, maybe the Lord Buckley samples could qualify, but that would still be a stretch.

Lazy, languid, laidback. The vibe, so transparent on the cover picture, is dragged through each and every song of the album. Frail piano lines, autumnal acoustic strumming, some glitch percussion, occasional orchestration, a reasonable dose of Brian Eno (who sings the verses of “Heavy Seas Of Love”) – ideal background to Damon Albarn’s bleak lyricism and vocal tone. “Mr. Tembo” is the only upbeat song here, but that is only a brief transition to more wistful loneliness and isolation. Even before you hear the heartbroken genius of “The Selfish Giant” (‘it’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on’), you are well soaked through, willing to get into the seven-minute “You & Me” epic or even the lovely but listless “Hollow Ponds”. 

The wild party is only a memory now, but Albarn remains a great songwriter with a lot to offer. The hooks do make their understated appearance, but they are different now. They are like the gorgeous accordion in “The History Of A Cheating Heart”. They impose nothing on you, they don’t even look for your attention. And neither does this album, with its dour 21st century concept as merely an afterthought. It will leave a taste, but it will not necessarily be sour. Lyrically, “Lonely Press Play” is all melancholia and alienation. But there’s also hope there. It’s in the music.

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