Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
If Damon Albarn really did believe in Blur’s album title Modern Life Is Rubbish, he’s even less impressed by life 20 years later. The cover art of his solo album Everyday Robots has him slumped over on a stool staring at his feet and that’s pretty indicative of the album’s mood: straight-up sad bastard miserablism.
I’m not immune to the charms of mopey dudes moping it up in Mopetown; I’ve listened to the Eels’ Electro Shock Blues while staring out train windows being all meaningful and shit an embarrassing number of times. But I don’t think it’s Albarn’s strength. Blur and the Gorillaz were both at their best when they were at their most ridiculous, when they were turning out bouncy-castle pop with choruses big as whales.
“Straight-up sad bastard miserablism”
Some of Everyday Robots does work. The title track manages to feel like a coming-together of the various strands of Albarn’s career, sounding like one of the slow songs between singles on a Gorillaz album with its clanking percussion, whistling, and sci-fi theme, but also having a dose of the strings and pianos from his last solo release, Dr Dee. ‘Mr Tembo’, the most upbeat song here, is all jaunty ukulele and uplifting choir – apparently he wrote the song for a baby elephant as a joke and had to be convinced by producer Richard Russell to include it on the album. Thank God for that, it’s a welcome break. So is the 43 seconds of cheery piano, bleeping, and toybox clatter called ‘Parakeet’ that follows it.
Then we’re right back into the doldrums with ‘The Selfish Giant’. Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes is barely there on backing vocals, drowned out by Albarn singing, “I had a dream you were leaving/It’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on and nothing’s in your eyes.” Just as bleak, ‘You And Me’ is the most blatant song he’s written about heroin since ‘Beetlebum’ but has none of that song’s energy, instead being drenched in the same programmed drums, plinky-plonky piano, and fuzzy samples as most of these samey songs.
There’s a big finale in ‘Heavy Seas Of Love’ with the choir from ‘Mr Tembo’ coming back along with some clapping, and suddenly it’s gospel time with guest vocalist Brian Eno as the preacher. It’s not enough to save Everyday Robots from monotony, though. There’s an entire song about how the impermanence of digital photography has got him down. Electro Shock Blues was about E’s sister committing suicide and his mother dying of cancer; on Everyday Robots Albarn complains about driving and the alienation of modern technology and that’s basically it. It’s a weary album that can’t seem to settle on a good reason for despondency.
Everyday Robots is out on Friday, April 25 via Warner.