Everyday Robots is one of the year’s most anticipated records, and in keeping with its marketing campaign the sound is understated throughout. We’ve seen many sides of Albarn's character reflected in his musical output over the years- the Britpop boy, the middle class ‘mockney’ lad, monkey maverick and even musical narrator. This album seems to be Damon, no character or façade, just him out on his own: telling stories, backed by sumptuous multi layered instrumentals with piano the main instrument of choice,
If you’ve enjoyed the songs released pre-album (‘Everyday Robots’, ‘Lonely Press Play’ and ‘Heavy Seas of Love’) then you’re going to dig the album as a whole. Don’t expect to be throwing your hands in the air to these songs this summer, though: some albums are made for the frantic festival crowds and others are for a more intimate setting. Everyday Robots sits in the latter bracket, with lyrics so personal that the album feels like that an autobiography. In particular the much-mentioned ‘You And Me’ speaks of his heroin use for the first time on record: “Tin foil and a lighter, my ship across. 5 Days on and 2 Days off.”
Also, on ‘Hollow Ponds’, Damon opens up his diaries from 1973 until today to take us on a trip back through his life and times; most memorably as he talks about The Modern Life is Rubbish photo-shoot which came at a time when Blur were very much in the ascendency. ”Turned into Lakeside, in January. Modern Life was sprayed on to a wall, in 1993.”
Musical themes may primarily be those of intimacy and understatement, but one of the consistent elements here are the samples worked through the songs. Though there’s nothing here that will trouble your indie disco anytime soon, they provide a real break of light in what could be at times quite a bleak, melancholic collection. Extensive sampling is something that has always been a benchmark of hip hop music and that is mirrored here by Damon, or more specifically Richard Russell whose fingerprints are all over this record. There are moments on the album, specifically the sampling on ‘Everyday Robots’ and ‘Heavy Seas Of Love’ that hark back to Russell’s work on the Gil Scott Heron + Jamie XX record We’re New Here.
In terms of pace‘Mr. Tembo’ is the only real up tempo number on the album. An obvious throwback to the work done on Mali Music and with Africa Express, here the gospel and soul influence is also pushed to the forefront with a backing vocal from Leytonstone’s Pentecostal Mission City Church Choir. The playful interaction between the stripped back vocal of Albarn and the gospel choir make this an album highlight.
Collaborations have made Damon a household name over recent years thanks to his work with Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad And The Queen album. But here they are kept to a minimum, with great effect, Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes) lends a hauntingly beautiful backing vocal, which evokes the imagery of the romantic ghosts Damon so painstakingly sings on ‘Selfish Giant’: “I had a dream, you were leaving. It’s hard to be a lover when the TVs on and nothing is in your eyes.”
Damon actually wanted to leave this lyric of the album, but Richard Russell convinced him to include it. It provides a true, devastating epicentre to Albarn’s trip back through his past failed relationships, and those ghosts still lurking in the back of his mind.
The only other collaborator on Everyday Robots is Brian Eno - who plays synths on ‘You and Me’- and takes charge with a spiritual, gospel-y lead vocal on ‘Heavy Seas Of Love’, which closes the album in the same way it started: with a sample of Lord Buckley’s ‘The Gasser’
That is where these songs are truly situated; alongside Albarn’s most stripped back, melancholic work. Think ‘This Is A Low’, ‘Under The Westway’ and ‘No Distance Left To Run'. It might not be album that will win Damon any immediate new fans, but when it comes to pure songwriting Everyday Robots will go down as one of his best.