“Personally I’m more of an ‘Oh look at the sunset isn’t it beautiful’ kind of person than someone who rushes out to get the latest bit of technology. I’m not very good with technology to be honest with you”. (Damon Alburn in an interview with the Guardian)
For someone who has carved a significant part of his career out of CGI laden, animated characters; it seems strange that Damon Alburn comes across as a bit of a technophobe. Listening to the lyrical themes of his solo debut Everyday Robots, you’d be forgiven to believe he has a certain fascination with electronics and their place in modern society. Whether this is something born out of his own fears of the medium is questionable, what is clear though is that Alburn has crafted something quite special.
A solo effort from the man has been somewhat expected, after such a lengthy silence between Gorillaz last appearance and his alt. rock supergroup, The Good, The Bad and The Queen. But the timing of Everyday Robots is spot on, dealing with themes of solitude and discontent in the digital age. They’re ideas that people don’t seem to be discussing as they hunch in hook-eyed gaze at their oversized Smartphones, making more Spotify playlists than they have time to listen to. This is most pronounced in the title track, ‘We are everyday robots on our phones/in the process of getting home’. Songs like ‘Lonely Press Play’ and ‘The Selfish Giant’ (featuring Natasha Khan) act as an uncomfortable revealing of the truth about our technological habits, the latter stating, ‘I had a dream, you were leaving/It’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on’.
Brit-pop icon gone art-pop auteur – Alburn has always been an artist of eclecticism and there aren’t many musical pies he hasn’t had a finger in. From the operatic stage show ‘Monkey: Journey to the West’ to Bobby Womack’s beat-heavy 2012 neo-soul album, Bravest Man in the Universe, he’s composed a variety of different scores and soundtracks since his Parklife days. These past collaborations seem to have rounded his current palette, all of which come to the fore in the sampled brass melodies that charge the upbeat ‘Mr. Tembo’, a steel drum interlude on the Brian Eno featured ‘You and Me’ with clean piano keys and hip-hop beats, bringing diverse influences together without sounding overly deliberate.
Each song holds a hazy melancholic tone that has come to suit Alburn’s ordinary (yet effective) voice. Intricate clicks and taps, work-in the robotic theme – yet are never cold, emotion seeps out of every line and melody of the 12 tracks, most evident on ‘The History of a Cheating Heart’, a ballad which relies more on stripped back acoustic guitar, under gliding orchestral sounds than programmed sequences.
Everyday Robots proves that Alburn doesn’t need to hide behind the façade of shiny, vivid cartoon characters to create new music that resonates with the soul as well as the ear. It’s still a concept album of sorts but also a step in the right direction, as he shows glowing signs of rightly moving into his own.
Reviewer: Nad Khan