Review Summary: The interesting musical project Gorillaz showcase their flexibility and variability with a diverse collection of songs.
At the turn of the 21st century a project like the Gorillaz was inevitable. Not only would the concept of a virtual band allow for handsome flexibility in fabricating a new special identity, but it would also enable a noncommittal stylistic direction. Britpop icon Damon Albarn and designer Jamie Hewlett took up the reins for the conception of this project, and the band's debut was released in 2001. Gorillaz
marks the birth of a versatile (and fictional) group of musicians dabbling into a potpourri of genres and exhibiting a cynical outlook toward a universe in a state of decay.
Gorillaz present their dryness in a way that is good-humored, so detecting the bitter sarcasm pervading the record is difficult at first. With a proficient sense of rhythm and lyricism, Gorillaz condemn the evils of corruption and greed but always shoot for a leisurely angle. "Rock the House" and "19-2000" are just two of the songs that feed into the band's mischievous and curious inclinations. This album exceeds in developing the characters of these imaginary personas, given that this record is multicolored and outgoing. At the same time, Gorillaz play things close to the vest and the intentions of the men behind the curtain become just as inscrutable as the cartoons they've created.
Hip-hop, rock, electronica, trip-hop, and even Latino: Gorillaz
plunges into so many different genres that just one of them would not be enough to describe the group's sound. It's impressive how eclectic this body of work actually is and how the band manages to garner all these disparate styles and make them sound strictly like their own brand of music. Although, it's not as if Albarn and company are striving to craft an undefinable record because this is far from it. However, the band's integration of genres is both idiosyncratic and fresh. Here we are presented with a hodgepodge of tracks, some driven by pulsating beats, others directed by cool, apathetic guitars, and many by a combination of electronics and instrumentals. Albarn does an adequate job as the primary vocalist, always emitting an uncompromisingly sharp attitude. He occasionally turns the microphone over to Del tha Funkee Homosapien as well, who brings some truly revitalizing rap verses into the mix.
The album has plenty to show for through its utter diversity. "Slow Country" patiently plods along as Albarn laments on loneliness and separation as a whooshing effect and a wary piano capture that sense of emptiness both in the air and internally within the character. Songs like "Man Research (Clapper)" and "New Genious (Brother)" feel less reserved as the backing vocals and durable beats work more proactively. Despite these variations in technique, Gorillaz concentrate on moody soundscapes and steady grooves. A few moments feel out of place like the overly rambunctious "Punk" and "Double Bass", which sounds like an interlude that runs for too long.
In spite of some minor setbacks, the album keeps its roots broad and succeeds in providing a likable range of personality. The slick opening riff of "5/4" and the funky rhythmic progression of "Latin Simone (Que Pasa Contigo)" are just a couple of the elements that make this record feel utterly free. From the spicy beat of "Clint Eastwood" to the melancholic reflections of "Tomorrow Comes Today", Gorillaz have more to give than their disillusioned cartoon portrayals suggest. The music itself seems to come from a place of doubt, sadness, and even boredom. Arising from a stockpile of genres, it gives the band room to wander without ever feeling too disjointed or indulgent.
Gorillaz center their music around a world eating away at itself on the downward slope. And yet, it might be one of the most optimistic illustrations of downfall. Internal conflict within these characters makes this album tick, but their highly variable songs float along together in accord. Gorillaz
is not the most meaningful record out there, but it claims no self-importance. While the Gorillaz sometimes fall victim to their own volatility, Albarm and his collaborators deserve credit for trying something different.
Man Research (Clapper)
Tomorrow Comes Today