Can we just go ahead and give Damon Albarn the credit he deserves for being one of the most accomplished songwriters of the last 20 years? The man behind Blur, The Gorillaz and now this deeply introspective solo album, has a grasp on pop culture that few can claim. On Everyday Robots, Albarn has put the globally-recognized pop appeal of The Gorillaz to the side for a moment, to reflect on personal themes, technological apathy and an over-arching treatise on tying our emotions to technology. The result is the best loner album of the year.
The aptly titled single, “Lonely Press Play” is the yin to St. Vincent’s “Digital Witness” yang. It’s a take on how we deal with boredom and depressive loneliness by turning on our digital devices:
Accepting that you live with uncertainty
If you’re lonely, press play
Can I get any closer? (Can I get closer?)
What antidote can I bring to you?
When I’m lonely, I press play
It sets the tone for a theme Albarn dissects throughout the album. On the album’s titular track, he’s more straight-forward in his critique:
We are everyday robots on our phones
In the process of getting home
The irony of the man behind the world’s first “digital band” (The Gorillaz) taking shots at the digital age is pretty wonderful in this context. Because this is Albarn’s detachment from his projects as an artist and an exploration of who he is and what goes on in the brain of Damon Albarn the person.
He even delves into memorable experiences from his travels, like on “Mr. Tembo,” a song he flippantly wrote to an orphaned baby elephant he encountered while travelling Tanzania. How he turns this song from a lullaby to a pachyderm into a Paul Simon circa Graceland jam featuring the Leytonstone Mission City Choir, (in contrast to Simon’s collaborations with Ladysmith Black Mambazo) is a memorable moment and shows Albarn humbly flexing his influence to include the East London choir.
But “Mr. Tembo” is merely an anecdote to describe Albarn’s benevolent process and human approach. The most wonderful moment on Everyday Robots comes on the nod to the eponymous Oscar Wilde classic, “The Selfish Giant.” I have to admit, I was sitting alone at a taqueria at 11pm on a Tuesday night (late work night…I told you it’s a loner album) when this song came on my headphones and I damn near broke down focusing on Albarn’s lyrics:
I had a dream that you were leaving
Where every atom falling in the universe
Is passing through our lives
And this was when when I moved this album further up on the year-end-list. To hear Albarn describe emotions and life-affirming musings with such poetry just made me want to crumble in existential bliss. Because artists like Damon Albarn who transcend the expected an can re-invent and create so masterfully, make you cower in respect. Everyday Robots marks the moment when I stopped thinking of Damn Albarn as “the guy from Blur,” or “the dude behind the Gorillaz,” but rather as one of the most significant modern artists who has a rare ability to create music that’s truly a sign of the times.