INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Telegraph APRIL 25, 2014 - by Helen Brown
DAMON ALBARN: EVERYDAY ROBOTS - 'FROM BITTERSWEET BLUES TO GROUP HUG'
Damon Albarn new album shows him to be achingly aware of modern isolation, says Helen Brown
Across a twenty-five-year career - taking in bands from Blur to Gorillaz, promoting the music of Malian musicians and veterans such as Bobby Womack, and composing pop operas Monkey and Dr Dee - Damon Albarn has seemed most comfortable singing from behind the perspective of a compelling cast of assumed characters. But at forty-six, he has finally, he says, set up "a raw stall" and made a directly autobiographical record.
In a mood of nostalgia, Albarn is looking back at his life as it unspools over some of his most subtle, beautiful and melancholy melodies, rendered in a slightly hung-over, low-fi tone, occasionally pepped up by samples from producer Richard Russell.
We follow Albarn from his Leytonstone childhood (on Hollow Ponds) through his relationship with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann (You & Me) and their heroin habit ("Tinfoil and a lighter... five days on and two days off") to mature travels to Africa on Mr. Tembo: an anomalously jaunty number he wrote for an orphaned elephant in Tanzania, who apparently responded to the song with an outpouring of manure.
But even as he archives his experiences, you can picture him rotating the photographs on his iPad, looking for what's been lost or left out of the shot.
The theme that hangs over the whole album is Albarn's resigned mistrust of technology. He clearly uses the stuff - this is the guy who used holograms to represent a cartoon band at live shows, and this album is being flogged on his Facebook page. And the music often bathes in electronics. Yet Albarn has always been achingly aware of the isolating potential of our "rubbish" modern world: the title track dolefully details our existence "driving in adjacent cars" as a sweet, high violin phrase is repeatedly swallowed backwards - like the thin brown strip of an old audio cassette.
On Lonely Press Play there's a sedative quality to the musical repetitions as Albarn addresses "Arrhythmia / Accepting that you live with uncertainty". There's a rare moment of domestic vulnerability on The Selfish Giant as Albarn sighs: "It's hard to be a lover when the TV's on." Meantime, Photographs (You are Taking Now) directly addresses the tension in our need to experience and document our lives simultaneously.
But it's not all bittersweet blues. The final song, Heavy Seas Of Love (co-written with Albarn's gym buddy Brian Eno), has him shake off the isolation to fall into the arms of the Leytonstone Pentecostal Mission Church Choir for the musical equivalent of a group hug.