Damon Albarn, "Everyday Robots" (Warner Bros.)
Twenty years after he became a Brit-pop poster boy as lead singer of Blur, Damon Albarn has released his first solo album.
He's been busy in the meantime, fronting cartoon hip-hop band Gorillaz, forming the supergroup The Good, the Bad and the Queen and even writing a couple of operas. So "Everyday Robots" is hardly the work of a novice -- rather of a man in his 40s looking back with a mixture of wonder and regret.
The songs, suffused with nostalgic melancholy, blend the digital and the organic, scattering samples of speech and street sounds over electronic beats, winsome guitar and plinky piano.
Lyrically, Albarn explores the tension between isolation and connection in the digital age, and the feelings of guilt and absolution that come with aging.
The melancholy title track sets the tone, with Albarn's vulnerable vocals laid over ragged samples and jagged violin. It's an understated number that worms its way under the skin.
"Hostiles" and "Hollow Ponds" continue the mood of languid reverie, while "You and Me" refers to Albarn's long-ago use of heroin, a drug he has said he found alluring and dangerous.
There are a couple of more up-tempo numbers in "Mr. Tembo" -- an ode to an orphaned baby elephant -- and "Heavy Seas of Love," a low-key sing-a-long featuring Brian Eno and a church choir.
More typical of the bittersweet mood are "Lonely Press Play" ("If you're lonely, press play") and the lovely, delicately hopeful "Photographs (You Are Taking Now").
"Everyday Robots" is an album of subtle pleasures.
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