Could this be the year of the 'mature' album? So far this year Beck's given us the most sophisticated, grown-up and classy album of his career, while Ben Watt has ditched years of dance music, paired up with Bernard Butler, and made a record that any quality singer-songwriter from the 70s would've been proud of. Meanwhile on 'Everyday Robots' Damon Albarn comes up with some of the best songwriting of his life, matching beautiful melodies with confessional lyrics ranging from childhood to frank confessions of his heroin use during Blur's heyday. Essentially a middle-aged meditation on life, this is Damon bearing his soul on who he is and how he's got here.
Written and almost entirely performed by him alone (with mostly just some beat contributions from producer Richard Russell), it owes more to his work with Gorillaz and other projects such as Africa Express and the Bobby Womack album than it does to Blur. There's a lineage to be traced through his history though - having always told stories of other people in his lyrics, he's now turned that lens on himself with amazing honesty. And musically you can draw a line from the brilliant Gorillaz track 'Hong Kong' and the end-of-Blur tracks like 'Fool's Day' and 'Under The Westway', and even things like 'Sunset Coming On' from the Mali Music album.
He's at his most confessional on 'You and Me': "Jab jab / digging out a hole in Westbourne Grove / tin foil and a lighter / the ship across / five days on and two days off" - basically a heroin user's version of the fasting diet. I'm sure that, like me, many people never realised the extent of his drug use, but here it is laid out for all to see.
In the main the music is downbeat, but never sombre or maudlin. There are a couple of lighter moments though. The upbeat 'Mr. Tembo' (about an orphaned elephant) might sound a bit too smiley in isolation, but in the context of the album it serves both as a counterpoint to the more serious tracks and as a way of including his trips to Africa in the story. Meanwhile album closer 'Heavy Seas of Love', featuring surprise guest vocals from Brian Eno, is one of those classic 'Let It Be' type songs, one of those 'things aren't as bad as they seem, I'll help you pick yourself up, you're stronger than you realise' tracks that manages to touch your soul almost without you realising it. And yes, I did just compare Albarn's songwriting to McCartney's.
Despite his constant output I'm not sure Albarn's ever been properly recognised fo rthe quality of his writing, and I wnder if whether subconsciously this is him showing us how he intends to grow old gracefully, putting away the childish things of his youth and taking a gentle stroll into maturity.
Maybe it's because we're a similar age, or because I've always followed his work and enjoyed the way it's developed. Or maybe it's just because this is a damm fine record, but this album moves me in a way that few albums have recently. It's a record that makes you want to sit quietly and take stock of your own life, to be happy with where you are, to spend some time in your own company but then to go out and hug your friends.
Despite the fact that it failed to get to number one (due to Warner's cock-up with failing to press the right amount of vinyl), as the months go by I predict that more and more people will fall under its spell. It's also a dead cert for the Mercury Music Prize this year, so put your money on it now and thank me later.