Released 20 years to the week since Blur dropped Parklife on us, Everyday Robots is Damon Albarn’s debut solo album. For an artist with such a prolific and distinctive output what does the term solo album actually refer to?
Everyday Robots is Albarn standing alone. There’s no grand concept behind this album a lá The Good, The Bad and the Queen. There’s no melding of artistic minds like the collaboration with Hewlett that produced Gorillaz. There’s no sign of Coxton and there’s not even a Chinese opera singer in sight. Instead, this is an album of songs selected from the seventy plus number of sketches of songs that Albarn presented to producer Richard Russell (producer of fellow Gorillaz vocalist Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man in the Universe in 2012).
The songs range from personal memories of childhood days (‘Hollow Ponds’), the now infamous dalliance with heroin (‘You and Me’) and, as you’d expect from one of the great chroniclers of our times, there are songs reflecting on the human experience in the 21st Century (‘Everyday Robots’ and ‘Lonely Press Play’). There’s even a track about a baby elephant thrown in to add some relief from the serious tone of the record. The playful ‘Mr Tembo’ is probably the best song written about an elephant since Nellie packed her trunk.
Additional uplift is added on the album’s closer ‘Heavy Seas of Love’, featuring Brian Eno on vocal duties and adding contrast to and complementing Albarn’s plaintive timbre. Despite the varied themes of the songs and the timespan over which they were initially conceived there’s a musical and vocal unity that links the twelve songs together and provides continuity to the work. Albarn’s beautifully melancholic but never maudlin voice underpins the lesser stated low-fi arrangements created in conjunction with Russell.
Unfortunately, we’re well accustomed to those L. Frank Baum moments when the curtain is pulled back to reveal that the Wiz was a swizz. And whilst Everyday Robots is not a full reveal it does offer us a glimpse behind the various veils that Albarn has operated behind over the years. And what we find is that Albarn is an emperor who has a fine well-tailored suit of clothes.
Timing, as they say, is everything and the fact that Damon chose the week of the 20th anniversary of the release of his band’s most iconic work to drop his solo debut on us cannot be coincidental. Everyday Robots is one man’s musical coda to his younger self as he prepares for his journey into his middle age. If the second half of this man’s musical life is half as rewarding and fruitful as the first then we’re in for a treat.