Away from a group, Damon Albarn’s solo project soars

Published 5:33 pm Saturday, May 3, 2014

The cover of Damon Albarn’s “Everyday Robots” serves as a fitting preamble to the album.

The cover shows the singer sitting head bowed on a stool with only his shadow, the album title and pieces of tape breaking a white background.

Albarn has already made his mark on the music world with Blur and Gorillaz, the best (if not only) animated band out there, but this is his first true solo album. While Albarn’s career dates to the late 1980s and early 1990s, this is certainly his most intimate and introspective album.

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“Everyday Robots” builds off the environmental themes of “Plastic Beach” for an album that focuses a lot of the dichotomy of nature and technology.

“We are everyday robots on our phones, in the process of getting home. Looking like standing stones, out there on our own,” Albarn sings on the intentionally off-kilter opening title track.

For people expecting something as poppy as Albarn’s past work, buckle up for a sobering ride.

In the early process of the album, Albarn described it as “empty club music,” which is fitting, especially for rhythm-heavy, but solemn songs like “Lonely Press Play” — which also continues the nature vs. technology themes.

The album plays like an inverted Gorillaz album. Albums like “Demon Days” and “Plastic Beach” are upbeat, beat-driven pop with a few slower, somber songs blended in. “Everyday Robots” is just the opposite.

Songs like “Mr. Tembo” serve as an upbeat and chipper interlude, playing like something reminiscent of Paul Simon’s world music. Albarn subtly blends in hints of world music throughout the album, especially with well-placed steel drums on “You & Me.”

The album would be a disappointment for fans if it were a Gorillaz album — it’s not big and majestic. But there’s something refreshing about Albarn’s approach. He’s become the king of collaborations, working with Lou Reed, Mos Def, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash, Snoop Dog, MF Doom and more.

This album is no different, as Albarn uses several Lord Buckley samples and records tracks with Brian Eno, among others. But, the collaborations aren’t front-and-center like on Gorillaz albums.

“Heavy Seas of Love” is another standout. With the help of Brian Eno and The Leytonstone City Mission Choir, Albarn closes the album on a triumphant note, proving he’s adept at crafting and structuring albums.

On “Everyday Robots,” Albarn weaves a subtle, thoughtful tour de force.