Damon Albarn, probably most famous for being the cartoonishly british voice of the Gorillaz and the more humble half of the Oasis V. Blur battle of the 90s, has released his first solo album. It is so small and quiet, the only thing that really sticks with you are the voices — both the hypnotic samples he includes and his own iconic croon. Lucky for him, that East London accent is a treasure.
This album doesn’t sound anything like the Gorillaz, so if that’s your thing (your only thing) then this whole album will probably be pretty disappointing. In fact, Albarn replaced any hip-hop sensibility he might have with pure pop melodies. This album seems more like a return to Blur’s softer sensibilities than a follow up to Plastic Beach (or, I guess, The Fall). But even when Blur took it slow, with tracks like End of Century or Tender, they always swelled into something big:
The songs on Albarn’s solo album, Everyday Robots, do no such thing. Ever. The whole thing is as calm as a gloomy London afternoon (I would guess). The joy comes from finding out what a Brit-Pop pioneer and 90s alt-rock vet like Albarn has to say about pop music in 2014. The answer is not much, but it’s still a joy to hear.
I suspect some might roll their eyes at what Albarn spends most of the album talking about. From the title alone it’s not hard to guess that he is particularly concerned with dehumanization through all the fancy devices we plug in. When Arcade Fire’s Reflektor came out, reviewers liked to complain about how bourgeois “anti-technology screeds” and critiques of social media are, but that critique is stupid. “Don’t sing about one of the most pertinent issues of our time” is a silly way to think about music.
Everyday Robots is short, soft and slightly bizarre. It’s delightful.
Of course, Albarn isn’t the only alt-rock legend to step down from his pioneer pedestal. A lot of the solo projects going on these days are unfairly dismissed as vanity projects. I happen to quite like them. Some of my favorites are Ben Gibbard’s Former Lives, which was apparently recorded over the course of a few years. Some of it using Rock Band.
I also think that Radiohead’s drummer, Philip Selway, has a gem of an album that’s been overlooked, unfortunately.
Of course, there is also Thom Yorke, whose solo album really isn’t great. But Thom Yorke not being great is still more interesting than most things out there. He also contributed a great song to one of the Twilight soundtracks, which is not available on Spotify, and you have to buy the whole soundtrack to New Moon on iTunes if you want to own it. Luckily, there’s Youtube.