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Damon Albarn

Everyday Robots

[Warner Bros.]

3 stars

As far as albums loosely aligned around the concept of technology’s numbing, dehumanizing effects, Radiohead pretty much clinched the deal with “OK Computer” nearly 20 years ago. Of course, Damon Albarn – erstwhile leader of Blur, mastermind of Gorillaz, and a guy who has gotten his mitts into just about every available crevice of the music industry – was never going to make an album as game-changing as “OK Computer.” Endlessly creative he may be, but a musical genius? Probably not.

Which is not to suggest that “Everyday Robots” lacks charm. In fact, charm is what carries it through its low-key observations of a world gone quietly mad, hoist on the petard of its own late-night, lips-puckered selfie. This is Albarn’s first official solo foray, and he certainly didn’t just toss the thing off with casual insouciance. “Robots” has been labored over and finely crafted, and yet, its greatest gift comes via Albarn’s gruff but chummy personality.

The Albarn who offers his “the piano has been drinking, not me” best on “Photographs (You Are Taking Now)” is an astute balladeer who is impossible not to love. This is Blur minus the football hooligan sing-along factor, and it’s all the better for it. The “gone Tropo” world pop of “Mr. Trembo” tugs gently at the heartstrings with an underlying wistful melancholy, and sounds like it could have been recorded in a pub during a break in a World Cup television broadcast. “Heavy Seas of Love” offers earnest balladry that blends English Music Hall with the Brit-Pop Albarn helped pioneer during its second wave.

Nothing more here than Albarn doing what he does best, which is more than good enough. “Robots” is a slow-burner, and likely will require a few listens before it starts spinning on repeat in your memory banks. If you are a fan of what Albarn has done to date, then the investment is a worthwhile one.

– Jeff Miers