Rip it up, magazine from New Zealand.
BLUR CATAPAULTED DAMON ALBARN TO STARDOM, WHILE GORILLAZ OFFERED HIM VIRTUAL REALITY ANONYMITY. NOW HE’S BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT WITH HIS VERY OWN OFFERING, EVERYDAY ROBOTS, SAYS DES SAMPSON.
Better late than never: it’s an apt adage to describe the protracted delay between Blur’s finale, Think Tank, in 2003 and Damon Albarn’s first solo album, Everyday Robots – eleven years later. The most pressing question is: what took him so long?
“I’m lazy, and just don’t get round to doing things,” shrugs Albarn, yawning absent-mindedly. “It’s like I’ll fill a dishwasher with dirty plates, without bothering to take out the clean plates already in there from the previous wash – and hope no-one notices – because I just can’t be bothered putting the dishes away!”
Despite his confession, Albarn’s prolific musical output with Blur, then Grammy Award winners Gorillaz – the most successful virtual band in history – and side-projects like Mali Music and The Good, the Bad and the Queen suggest he’s anything but lazy. In fact, if you include the myriad film scores he’s written and the two operas he’s adapted, including the classic Chinese tale Monkey: Journey to the West, it’s evident he’s more workaholic than work-shy.
“Ok, ok, you got me; I’m not lazy in that way,” he concedes, throwing his hands-up into the air in mock-surrender and laughing. “The reality is, I just never thought about doing a solo album because I was so busy doing other things.”
That all changed when he co-produced Bobby Womack’s album, The Bravest Man in the Universe, with Richard Russell, the owner of XL Recordings – a label that boasts Prodigy, Radiohead, White Stripes, The xx and Adele amongst its alumni.
“Yeah, I only did a solo album because Richard Russell asked me to,” he accedes. “Before that, it just never occurred to me to do one because I had no desire to and also felt I had nothing to say.”
It’s ironic because Everyday Robots is packed with passion and says so much about life, love, loneliness, alienation, the past, the present and the future – mainly Albarn’s. At times it’s like trawling through the deepest, darkest recesses of his mind, tracing his life from childhood through to fatherhood.
“Yeah, it’s totally autobiographical; every line is based on reality. But I didn’t intend it to be like that, or to be so honest,” he insists. “Actually, I didn’t even realise it was all about my life until someone pointed out how personal the lyrics were! But I guess if you’re going to do a solo record then it should be all about you, shouldn’t it? Otherwise what’s the point?”
Consequently, Everyday Robots delves into Albarn’s childhood escapades on yarns like ‘You and Me’ and ‘Hollow Ponds’ and his reflections on getting older on the haunting, introspective midlife-crisis paranoia of ‘The Selfish Giant’ and ‘The History of a Cheating Heart.’ Is that how he feels, hitting his mid-40s?
“Yes, in a very real sense. I remember waking up on my 45th birthday, opening the door in my [under]pants and discovering there was a snowstorm! I can clearly recall standing there and thinking, ‘okay, 15 more years ‘til I’m 60, five more ‘til I’m 50…’ So, yeah, there’s definitely that feeling of midlife-crisis,” he nods, thoughtfully. “But as my friend said, ‘as long as you wake up and everything is working, then it’s a good day…’ So that’s how I look at things now.”
Making Everyday Robots also made Albarn look at his own life and realise – and reassess – how much he, and the world he lives in, has changed since he was a child.
“The crux of the record is the transformation and the transition I went through by moving from the East End of London, which is a very rich, multi-cultural part of London, to rural Essex when I was a kid,” he explains. “I hadn’t really thought about it, or the impact it had on me, until I came to make this record. But now I realise it was a very powerful moment in my life that completely changed me both personally and creatively because I went from being a normal, happy kid to being a – still happy – but slightly confused and alienated kid cast amongst these terrible mono-culture, Anglo-Saxons in Essex
“The other thing I tried to explore on this album, which I think works in parallel with the narrative of the record of moving from early childhood to the present, is the incredible impact of technology on our lives,” adds Albarn, explaining songs like ‘Lonely Press Play,’ ‘Photographs (You Are Taking Now’) and the beguiling title track. “We’re in a period of huge transition and extraordinary, unbelievable things are happening to us because of technology. But is it to a place which will take us closer to our true selves, or are we distancing ourselves from our true selves with those changes and technology?”
It’s definitely food for thought and also a reminder of Albarn’s vision and genius which makes Everyday Robots an extraordinary, compelling journey that only slowly reveals its hidden depths and gems like ‘Hostiles’ and ‘Seven High’ after repeated listens. So, while it may have taken Albarn an age to finally realise and release his debut solo album, the wait has definitely been worth it.