Is it really 20 years? 20 years since a fairly fresh faced blur were competing for our affections with those upstarts from the north Oasis? At the time it was often felt that the brothers Gallagher won that war, for my view I felt blur never eclipsed Definitely Maybe (20th anniversary just gone).
Damon Albarn has never looked back since then. With huge success of his Gorillaz project and the critical acclaim of the superb The Good, The Bad and the Queen alongside various other side projects, working along the likes of Bobby Womack it is amazing to think that this is his first official solo release ever.
Opening with the title track, the tone of the record seems obvious from the start. This is a melancholic journey through his life. Everyday Robots conveys the modern relationship between humans and technology as people roam around looking at phone screens like zombies or robots. There is little change in tone through the opening salvo of hostiles and Lonely, Press Play as the title suggests the feeling of being isolated and alone. Track for sees a change of tempo as his affection for Afro-beats comes out in Mr Tembo. A song about a baby elephant! It certainly offers a more uplifting glimpse into Albarn’s take on the world. This is also backed by the lovely sounds of the Pentecostal Choir of Leytonstone.
Natasha Kahn provides vocals with Albarn on the Selfish Giant, a song about Nuclear Submarines and Scotland for such a serious subject matter, the song fits perfectly , as he sings of how ‘it’s hard to be a lover when the TVs in and there’s nothing in your eyes’ again drawing comparison with modern life.
Part two begins with the sweeping epic landscape of You and Me. Steel drums as he sings of addiction to heroin ‘the tinfoil and the lighter…’ As it ‘all goes round again’. Following on comes Hollow Ponds a tail of the summer of 1976 and growing up in Leytonstone. ‘Half my road is now a motorway, 1991’ he laments. It was also at Hollow Ponds where Albarn saw the graffiti ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ which would play significance in his musical career.
The final quarter begins with the beautiful Photographs, asking the listener to think about seeing life through a lens rather than the bigger picture. From there he sings of the History of a cheating heart ‘always more than you know’ before closing with the gospel like Heavy Seas of Love where he is joined on vocal duties by Brian Eno.
This certainly is an album from the heart, needs more than one listen and you are rewarded if you do, lyrically Albarn is superb and whilst to many the sheer gentle melancholy will be an issue it certainly fits nicely on a relaxed Sunday afternoon.
Oasis may feel they won the war back then, but Albarn has continued to produce superb works and this is another addition to that wealthy cannon.