Blur frontman and Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn spends much of his time in transit, a fact he displayed in his travelogue/video for “Lonely Press Play,” the second single from his debut solo album Everyday Robots, out next month. And, evidently, one trip in particular proved deeply influential to the singer’s recent creative process. While staying in Tanzania, Albarn came in contact with an orphaned baby elephant called Mr. Tembo whose story and sweet temperament, he told Rolling Stone, drove him to write a tribute. Recorded on a cell phone and performed on the spot for the elephant, alongside Paul Simonon, “Mr. Tembo” has since evolved into the most upbeat of the four Everyday Robots songs released to date. High-spirited and with a fairytale quality, the song sounds made for an adaptation of a children’s book—which is not to say it sounds elementary.
Told that Mr. Tembo’s owners would play gospel music for the baby elephant, Albarn returned to his early Leytonstone roots to pay a visit to a church he used to stand outside as a boy, awestruck at the singing coming from within, in search of that choir. The Leytonstone City Mission Choir, hired for the job, add a richness to the final studio version of the song. That same choir makes a second appearance on Everyday Robots on “Heavy Seas of Love,” released yesterday, which sees Albarn sending an optimistic message in gorgeous harmony with the choir, assisted on vocals by friend and collaborator Brian Eno. If the four tracks we’ve heard thus far are a representation of the full project, expect Everyday Robots to sound every bit as eclectic as Albarn’s previous work.