Damon Albarn has been involved in many innovative projects, spanned countless genres and pleasured millions of ears, from Brtipop fame with Blur through experimental pop project Gorillaz all the way up to the soundtracks and operas he’s scored and written. He has now finally released his first album as a solo artist. And he’s down about this modern life. By technology, specifically the online world, the devices in our hand and the paradoxical, interconnected alienation it causes. A subject explored across many mediums in recent years: Banksy’s Mobile Lovers, the Oscar-winning Her, TV’s Black Mirror, as well as within many recent albums, including 2014 releases from St. Vincent and EMA who use clever instrumentation and effects to compliment the lyrical theme – something Albarn employs himself on Everyday Robots.
The opener, and title track, starts with sharp, manipulated strings and high-tech beats that create a once-futuristic-sounding, now grimly present-sounding backdrop – like a dystopian look-at-the-near-future novel come to life. All of which has whipped the former Blur frontman into a woozy disaffection where by all he can do is stand by the side and do some quiet judging and soul searching, or get caught up in it himself. It is essential to be modern. The digitised production on this and the following two tracks set the tone for most of the album, introducing repetitively plucked acoustic guitars and disorienting pianos and synths. After this a sudden shift sees “Mr. Tembo”, a typically catchy Albarn number, lift the pace of the album significantly, so much so that it feels slightly out of place stuck between a sea of tracks with the opposing tone. “The Selfish Giant” returns to the overall concept of the record and builds beautifully to each chorus on which a multitude of instruments, drumbeats and effects accompany his helpless tone, bemoaning the habit of gluing yourself down to the sofa as a couple, staring at screens night after night.
The album peaks on the final side, starting with “Photographs (You Are Taking Now)”, a sequel of sorts to “Lonely, Press Play” with its contrast between a dimly-lit verse and a brighter chorus, before confessional “The History of a Cheating Heart” and a familiar bittersweet gospel vibe adorning closer “Heavy Seas of Love”.
The criticism of Everyday Robots is its lyrics. Some superb lines – “Everyday robots just touch thumbs/Swimmin’ in lingo they become” – are placed next to some clunky ones – “Stricken in a status sea/One more vacancy” and where the other artists mentioned earlier in this piece appear to explore deeper subjects within this theme, come across as more profound and evoke stronger emotions, Albarn comes up a little short, failing to address the issues from as interesting an angle. Which is disappointing given that sonically the record is on point for the majority. I do say this with a slight hesitation. It’s difficult to criticise the greats too much as they are, even if subconsciously, held to a higher standard than most. That said, while Damon Albarn continues to show his knack for songwriting here, on his first album as a solo artist, this is by no means close to the best record he’s been involved with writing.