What’s it sound like when Albarn strikes out on his own? Over the years, the Brit has been many things for many bands, but Everyday Robots is the first time we’ve ever heard him go solo. Turns out it was worth the wait. His debut is listenable and brilliantly composed. But that much we more or less expected – no, it’s the personal touch on Everyday Robots that both surprised us and drove the album home.
It’s easy to listen to this one and think “my word, it sounds like Gorillaz”. There’s some truth in that, but because Gorillaz was such an eclectic, Albarn-driven project, you know there was bound to be some overlap. But we’re dealing with a distinctly different beast this time around. Albarn as a solo artist deals very firmly with his own universe, rather than the one inhabited by his virtual band. Strange samples from wildly variant sources patch several songs directly into the world inhabited by the titular robots (read: us). As do direct references to Albarn’s own life and times, something that was largely avoided in previous projects.
The album kicks off with the title track. It’s more of a slow shove than a kick, actually. “Everyday Robots” is a grim piece of work and a very candid reflection on communication in the smartphone age. Sparse, but well-chosen instrumental backup (haunted house strings and a piano taking center stage) set the introspective, melancholy mood that persists through most of the album.
A second standout comes in the shape of “Lonely Press Play,” a legitimately gorgeous bit of work. It’s bittersweet, to say the least, but mixes in some hope for redemption. Particularly effective are the promising builds that never quite live up to their crescendo-ing potential… until the next track. “Mr. Tembo” is the true oddball on the album, but its cheery gospel is a fitting sequel to the hopeful glimmer of “Lonely Press Play,” which in turn helps “Mr. Tembo” fit into the album, while it might have otherwise come off as a novelty track.
It’s near the middle of the album that Albarn really opens up a little. “You & Me” is an unmistakeable drug ballad. Albarn’s voice, usually laconic, carries some extra insistence before it drops into a lovely-– but somewhat sinister-– repeating outro. And then there’s “Hollow Ponds,” a bleak, stream-of-consciousness slice of Albarn’s life that may send you hurrying back to “Mr. Tembo.”
Things pick up again from there, and by the time we reach the finale, “Heavy Seas of Love,” we do so with a feeling that we’ve earned ourselves a bit of optimism. There’s nothing sacron about this final song. Sure, it’s simple, and follows a rather Beatles-y premise, but it’s played as an answer to the previous melancholy and loneliness. It’s a fine bookend to Everyday Robots and a great end to the album.