Review Summary: Gorillas are a threatened species. Gorillaz might be joining them at this rate.
King Solomon said that “all is vanity” and he must be commended for accurately describing The Fall
, Gorillaz new album, thousands of years ahead of its release.
In the latest attempt at breaking down the walls of Fortress Music Industry, Albarn made this full length 15-track LP available for the tempting price of £zero on Christmas Day. He was by no means the first high-profile artist to do so; The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince giving away Planet Earth
free with the UK’s tabloid bum-rag Daily Mail and Radiohead managing to guilt some people into exchanging even a scant amount of money for In Rainbows
Is free music free from criticism? Not at all. Unfortunately, despite Albarn embracing new technology (the album being recorded solely on an iPad) and with the consumer needing no monetary commitment, there is still a lot missing.
Stripped of its predecessor’s richer, fuller sounds The Fall
sounds immediately flatter and pared down. Opening track “Phoner To Arizona” sets the tone, a wordless mish-mash of loops and beeps. It sounds like a menagerie of farts and is completely uninspiring. Not a good start for the man who had a large hand in creating the breathless “Clint Eastwood” and the funky “Feel Good Inc.”
A better choice for the album’s opener would have been the following track, “Revolving Doors.” Albarn’s distinctive voice lamenting his ‘revolving doors’ and ‘revolving days’ over a smooth classical guitar sound. His vocals here and on other tracks are reminiscent of the down-on-his-luck crooner persona so ably deployed on “Country Sad Ballad Man” from Blur’s eponymous late 90s album.
is a road-album, created during a Gorillaz US tour in 2010 and the sense of movement, alien environments and paranoia is evident throughout. Even the song titles are in some way inspired by the feeling of momentum that a tour must induce; “Detroit”, “The Snake In Dallas”, “Amarillo” (don’t worry, it’s not a cover of the karaoke favourite) and “Bobby In Phoenix”, featuring a smooth and soulful cameo from Bobby Womack, are just a few of the geographically enhanced titles on offer.
The rest of the album continues in a lamentably wasteful way. “The Parish Of Space Dust” drawls itself to sleep with repetitive music and barely audible voice samples stuttering away in the background. “Aspen Forest” is another go-nowhere track in a similar vein. You only wish more effort could have been put in to the whole enterprise.
Gorillaz was founded on its sense of collaboration and willingness to experiment. The latter element is present, the former is not. Indeed, during the instrumental tracks you can’t help but imagine whether some scheduled guest vocalists had missed appointments with Mr. Albarn and he had to make do with what he had. Strictly speaking, it’s a Gorillaz album in name only. You could commend Albarn on one hand, but then slap him with the other; the use of a ‘rolling studio’ and the latest in technology is inspired, but it ultimately represents the downfall of the album.
On Gorillaz’s website, the legal eagles are circling; The Fall
“may not be sold, transferred, altered or copied (including burning and uploading to the internet) without the express prior written approval of EMI Records Ltd.” Whilst these sentiments are the equivalent of pissing into the wind nowadays, Albarn & Co. might well be missing a trick. Why not take the ideas of people like Trent Reznor and Buckethead and make the various layers and samples available to fans to create their own album? One suspects that if this were so, the true aim of Gorillaz could finally be realised.