Balladeer of life

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Balladeer of life
Damon Albarn’s first solo album, Everyday Robots, more than any of his extensive career’s more famous efforts, invites you right into his head. Trust me, it’s not a very cheery place. However, it is a beautiful darkness that he’s willing to share. Arrangements are tight and catchy and, while it’s unlikely to receive much commercial success, Albarn’s debut is undoubtedly one of the best-arranged albums of the year.

Since his time as frontman of alt rock band Blur, Albarn has worked with Gorillaz, Rocket Juice & the Moon, as well as Anglo-bent rock band The Good, The Bad & The Queen. His musical ventures have seen him spending the last two decades dancing between genres like punk rock, Afrobeats and alternative rock.

The low-key charm of Everyday Robots is its biggest USP. It’s a record full of finely observed tunes about the numbing effects of technology and modernity, produced with care and skill. Albarn appears to be railing against the technological oppression of 21st century living, whether proclaiming that it’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on on The Selfish Giant or exploring the idea that humans will evolve to the point where their hands will only have strong scrolling thumbs.

Another brilliant aspect of the record is its honest and simple songwriting. Strong lyrics about everything, from a pooping elephant named Mr Tembo to Albarn’s brief experimentation with heroin, makes it a very personal album. The degree of honesty and sparse composition convey a sense of vulnerability that makes it an enriching experience for the listener.

In You and Me, possibly the album’s most controversial track, Albarn admits to heroin use during the ’90s. Lonely Press Play is a haunting melody about the heartbreak and music’s ability to help us transcend it. A beautiful track with sharp piano and low, thumping African drums nicely complementing Albarn’s calm voice. With heartbreaking frankness, Albarn reflects, I had a dream that you were leaving/ It’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on and there’s nothing in your eyes.

Mr Tembo is a quirky song about a baby elephant that Albarn was introduced to during a trip to Tanzania that he has formed into an African-inspired, choir-backed ode about the relationship between circumstance and intention. Ukulele heavy and jubilant, it’s almost children’s music. It’s a nice break from the sombre picture Albarn seems to be painting with the rest of the album.

Overall the album is beautiful. The levity of its instrumentation serves as a much-needed boost of energy to an otherwise quite melancholic album. His voice comes through clear and unobstructed, confident in the deeply personal story he shares. The album’s cover art captures this sentiment best: Albarn sits upon a stool in a great grey void, a grin on his face as he smiles at a private joke.

Musically, the penchant for subtle melody that he has explored so well through The Good, The Bad & The Queen and Gorillaz comes across quite well on this album as well. Everyday Robots is another reminder of what a remarkable talent Albarn is.

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