Review Summary: A 43 minute promotional advertisement that money just can't buy
As some of you may remember my write up for Plastic Beach
, I have something of a love-hate relationship when it comes to everyone's favorite animated band. Musically, well they're my cup of tea (generally), but in all honesty I just don't give a toss regarding all the unnecessary exposition that's been amusingly tacked together by their creators. I mean, did you know that there's been more releases concerning the history and story of the Gorillaz than actual music itself? I find that a little disconcerting to be honest, simply because I'm only in it for the music. But I understand that some people get a kick out of it and hey, that's cool, I'm fine with that. I'm just saying that I like my band with a side of music, I'm not interested in comics and games and stories and Damon Albarn's ego etc etc. But what interests me is the story behind this album, The Fall
, recorded while on tour, using only an iPad. Well, there's advertising you can't buy, right? I mean, pretty sure the marketing team at Apple didn't think of that one. It's an apt name in retrospect (and by retrospect I mean 2 days, but who's counting) and it's also a little ironic to see the experiment experimenting. Yeah, Plastic Beach
was a little of a stretch for them music wise, but this definitely feels a little more out of their comfort zone. And while I mentioned that I only care about Gorillaz the band and not Gorillaz the franchise, this little ode to road tripping could potentially be the undoing of all that animated legacy, all the bloated back story and the unnecessary frills. In fact, it might just leave them with nothing more than their music. Like I said, apt.
In a way, recording an album while on the road and therefore using less than conventional methods is, on the one hand exciting, but on the other, not enough of an excuse to warrant anyone not pointing out the obvious faults present with recording with a “rolling studio”. Sure, traveling from place to place does allow for incredible amounts of downtime and it's a testament to Damon and company's creative powers that they were able to conceive and write an entire album's worth of material while roaming from place to place. And it's an interesting concept to take these drawn from the road moments and actually
record them, but when you're the Gorillaz (and in that one word I refer to studio wizardry, Del, Danger Mouse, high flying concepts, perfectly executed tracks that morph through a hundred different ideas and genres, mystery and art, ingenuity and inspiration) utilizing anything that's just “on hand” probably isn't the best of ways to continue your musical odyssey.
Recorded on an iPad, the album sounds exactly as you would expect it to. The Gorillaz have attempted to remake their vibrant and heavily layered sound on something not much bigger than my hand. And in a way it works, or to be more specific, it's surprising to hear just how much they were actually able to capture, how much of that quintessential sound was able to pass over to such a rudimentary form of sound production. But the recording equipment and location also presents many obvious restrictions at just how much they could get away with, and it shows. It's funny to see an album be undone by its very method of creation, to see it bogged down by the exciting prospect that I'm sure has many tech heads chomping at the bit and salivating in delight. It's encouraging to see just how far the band have been able to push the limits of their technology, and while they've obviously accomplished a lot, they're ultimately at the mercy of their own limits, held back by the very limitations they've imposed on themselves. Again, apt.
Take album opener 'Phoner To Arizona' for instance. It's a track that doesn't really do anything except just be there. It unfolds itself at an acceptable pace, progressing naturally and revealing just enough of itself to not be completely lackluster, but it doesn't become anything, it just sits there and watches me sigh and complain that it doesn't do anything with itself. 'Revolving Doors' has a little bit more going for it, in fact it's actually quite quaint in its approach, but its lo-fi nature confirms just how annoyed I'm getting at Damon Albarn's “I used to be a great singer, now I'm a broken down busker” vocal delivery. You're meant to be a cartoon, stop sounding so damned melancholic. I mean, I just want someone to paint a giant smile on his face, then give him a clip across the ears. And the rest of the album follows in a similar fashion; sure 'Hillbilly Man' is surprisingly bouncy and delightful as a result, and 'The Joplin Spider' represents an interesting bump in the road with its retro leanings, but by the end of the album I just find myself not caring at what's just run through the speakers. I don't find myself invested enough to go back and hear it all again, simply because there's not enough to hold my interest. There's great ideas here, but they're thin and shallow, everything here could benefit from some much needed padding and inflation.
I'm happy to see a band attempting something out of the box, and with next to no buildup and fanfare, but its rushed delivery and apparent stop start production (this was recorded during the middle of a tour remember) hasn't done the album any justice. As I said, people are going to get excited at the nature and existence of this album, but its limitations are, ultimately, its destruction. Would this album sound any better pieced together in an actual studio? Well yes, a little more polish could definitely have done this album many a favor. But of course, working out of a full blown studio would have allowed the band access to more techniques and instruments, and the obvious result would of course been not only more efficiently executed ideas, but just better ideas in general. I can't fault them for wanting to do this, but I can fault them for actually doing it.