Recently, a YouTube video caught Damon Albarn sitting in with a London pub band, the Gents, for a rendition of his Blur hit "Parklife." The bar erupted in boozy camaraderie, off-shift locals getting an unexpected brush with stardom.
That's the kind of low-key charm that Albarn's solo debut, "Everyday Robots," is built on. It's an LP full of finely observed tunes about the numbing effects of technology and modernity, produced with care and skill.
"Robots" is the first solo album credited to the always-busy Albarn, who in addition to fronting the on-and-off-again Blur has worked in Gorillaz and the Good, the Bad & the Queen, composed an opera, produced for Bobby Womack and Gil Scott-Heron, and run the influential record label Honest Jon's.
"Robots" touches on sounds from all his projects and interests — bleary piano balladry like "Photographs (You Are Taking Now)," gentle tropical pop on "Mr. Tembo" (adorably written about a baby elephant he met in Tanzania) and the fussy but stylish beat music of the single "Lonely Press Play." Fans who've grown up with his mix of rainy day sweet-and-sadness will find it's a fine addition to that catalog.
For an artist who has capably proved he can do pretty much anything, "Everyday Robots" is perfectly modest in its ambitions. But it's still full of winning surprises — even if they aren't as worthy as a pub band sit-in.