As Damon Albarn’s debut solo album Everyday Robots hits the shelves, we take a look at the 12-track record, song by song.
The album’s opener starts with a rousing cry from Lord Buckley, an American entertainer from days gone by. Haunting, wistful, it reflects on our increasing isolation through technology. Damon says: "When I first started out there was no such thing as camera phones. Now we have this deconstruction of ourselves through technology, an alienation from ourselves. It’s all about the juxtaposition of robots, telephones and standing stones."
One of the standout tracks on the album, this listless acoustic piece of melancholia sees him musing on communication ...but who with? Damon says: "The Hostiles are the characters that get up on each level, they’re completely soul-less things. That passive aggression that exists in computer games."
Damon Albarn by Linda Brownlee
Lonely Press Play
Underpinned with a steady, rhythmic heartbeat, this track experiments with elements of trip hop. Although themes of loneliness and seclusion are prominent once again: ‘when I’m lonely I press play’, the song is almost like a lullaby - a slightly uncomfortable one. Damon says: "Pressing play is so much of our abstractions every day - whether that’s putting on a computer, radio television. Everything we do is related to pressing that triangle, to pressing play."
The most upbeat song on the album, Damon’s enlisted the help of Leytonstone’s Pentecostal City Mission Church Choir to provide the gospel element. His work with Africa Express and trip to Malia is also evident throughout. Damon’s remarked that it’s about a baby elephant he encountered, who loved listening to gospel. We think the elephant draws parallels with a young Damon, who used to sit outside Pentecostal City Mission Church and listen to the choir. Damon says: "There is some strange connection between going back to city mission, this baby elephant and gospel."
Perhaps not a song in the traditional sense, more like half a minute of keyboards, interspersed with effects. I’m not a fan, but it does sound like a parakeet. Damon says: "I’ve always been fascinated by them. They sound like space invaders when they fly over."
Damon Albarn by Linda Brownlee
The Selfish Giant
Opening with a solid bass line, followed by glorious piano and haunting vocals. Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan also lends her talents to the record, cementing this track as one of the most moving on the album. It also sounds like he’s having a domestic. Damon says: "The narrative images are of a night spent in Dunoon, Scotland, a ghostly place, a submarine base. Did a gig there with Blur in ’96. It’s a place shrouded in melancholy and has seen better days, but the image of "it’s hard to be a lover with the TV on, there’s nothing in your eyes" might seem like a domestic, but it’s the idea of someone heading out of those dark rocks with the glow of their monitors. The selfish giants are these nuclear submarines hiding in the canyons in the oceans."
You and Me
Studded with references to hard drugs, You and Me opens with a creepy lo-fi sound courtesy of Brian Eno on synths. The track’s steady, pulsating rhythm then makes way for stirring steel drums which Damon has remarked represent the true ghost of carnival. Damon says: "It was two songs, but we decided to make into one long story, starting in September with the ghost of carnival still walking the streets. The ghostly figure of Moko Jumbi, walking the streets is You. The second part, Me, is a subterranean late night thing...which is part of carnival as well."
At the secret gig in Leytonstone, Damon recounted how special Hollow Ponds is to him, dedicating this track of the same name to the people of the area. As such, we’re faced with a semi autobiographical effort here, as he sings of heatwaves, holidays and the modern life graffiti which inspired Blur’s ‘93 album Modern Life is Rubbish. It's a touching comment on life, loss and society's increasing isolation due to technology. Damon says: "When I was playing with the idea of creating a record I returned to Leytonstone, to the Hollow Ponds, close to Wanstead flats. It’s an amazing place, with these old sandpits which are now ponds, the Hollow Ponds. I spent a lot of time there as a child fishing, riding my bike. And it’s where I discovered modern life...it’s a special place.
Filled with fragments of instruments and beats, this track ends somewhat abruptly. Damon says: "There were seven high rise buildings in my line of vision when I was writing. Plus I like the number seven."
Photographs (You are taking now)
Featuring a sample from Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience, this beautiful electronic piece builds slowly. There's lots of Gorrilaz’ styling in abundance here too.
Damon says: "Down in Devon, when we had the eclipse, there was this moment where people were taking photos of nothing. The emotional tug of the track was from there. But the first verse is about a recurring dream I had as a child, about a plane crash on Black Sands beach."
The History of a Cheating Heart
The most beautiful track on the album, this song comes across as the ultimate love letter, with Damon wearing his heart on his sleeve. Damon says: "It’s about relationships with my family, from childhood to now. Driven by mistakes, happiness, dreams, expectations, how you find yourself locked in cycles."
Heavy Seas of Love
A rousing conclusion to a somewhat melancholy album, with Brian Eno and Leytonstone’s Pentecostal City Mission Church Choir joining forces with Damon to create an uplifting end, at odds with the album’s mostly melancholy feel. Damon says: "No-one ever asks Brian to sing, but here, we do."
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