For Damon Albarn, making music has always been a behind the scenes venture. He has, despite his low profile, been very successful exploring his art in new and unique ways. Albarn started his musical career in 1988 while at Goldsmiths College in London, where he and some of his classmates formed a band they would eventually call Blur. After being signed to Food Records in 1990, the band became something of the British counterpoint to the grunge movement happening in the United States at that time. They achieved critical and commercial success in England before breaking up in 2003, then reunited again in 2008.
Of course, most Americans are familiar with Albarn through his other successful venture, Gorillaz, the cartoon alternative rock band he created in 2001. The band has sold tens of millions of albums worldwide, been named the Most Successful Virtual Band by the Guinness Book of World Records, won a Grammy, won two MTV VMA’s, and changed the perception of what popular music could be.
Now, Albarn is preparing to step out on his own with his first solo album Everyday Robots, which was released on April 25th. Although, you might not want to call it a solo record to him, as he told NME “I suppose you could call it a solo record, but I don’t like that word. It sounds very lonely – solo. I don’t really want to be solo in my life. But yeah, I’m making another record.” Keeping with that spirit of collaboration he enlisted the help of producer Richard Russell as well as singers Brian Eno and Natasha Khan, both of whom he recorded duets with for the album.
The resulting album is something of a dark day dream, recalling the hours spent in elementary school staring at rain hitting the window of your classroom. That’s not to say it’s exclusively melancholy in tone; “Mr Tembo” is a particularly uplifting track about baby elephant that Albarn met in a zoo in Tanzania. Along with Paul Simonon, he enlisted the help of a gospel choir from his hometown for the song, which was released as the fourth single from this album. Despite the brief uptick from “Mr Tembo,” Everyday Robots doesn’t shy away from heavy hitting tracks, like the autobiographical “You & Me” which references his past experiences with heroin use: “Tin foil and a lighter, the ship across, five days on, two days off.” He explained the reference to The Guardian, saying “I suppose it’s just me saying, ‘Let’s just get this out of the way. I took heroin for a while and I found it interesting and, yes, it was remarkably helpful in the creative process for a short time. I didn’t go down in the gutter, in fact I was incredibly disciplined about it. Blah blah blah. So what?'”
In an effort to promote his album, Albarn performed for at the SXSW Festival in Austin back in March, which was recorded as a part of DirecTV’s Guitar Center Sessions. Albarn’s hepisode will air on May 11th, and features an interview with Albarn about his experience making his first solo album. While there isn’t an official tour planned, Albarn plans to make a series of appearances at festivals in Europe, the US, and Japan during this summer.
Reviewed by Spencer Blohm
Damon Albarn (Facebook)
Reviewed by b3