Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 53)
Since 1995 Damon Albarn has basically been releasing albums straight into used CD stores.
Albums that are long, scattered, unfocused, weird and bummed but always have at least one hugely accessible hit single that draws the unsuspecting to it. The masses purchase, rip the one track they care about, and toss it to their local thrift store. Before 2001, this trickery was relegated to Blur but sensing the public catching onto his games, Albarn enlisted Tank Girl artist Jamie Hewlett to construct a virtual band. One where Albarn could relegate himself to the shadows and use his avatars as the face of the band. This was a clever move on Albarn’s part since, being one of the most loved and hated singers in England, a solo album released under his own name would have come with loads of excess baggage and unwanted hype. But Gorillaz allows Albarn to space out and present completely out of character collaborations. Furthermore Gorillaz has been a delightfully one of a kind media presentation. It’s been ambitious from day one, with labyrinthine websites, broad multimedia reach (My first exposure to the band was through a jeep racing flash game) and complex live shows. Plus, how many bands have a “Former fictional members” section on their Wikipedia page?
With Dan the Automator in tow, Albarn sets about crafting his very own trip-hop album. Gorillaz
, like many of Albarn’s post-Great Escape
efforts, is the perfect soundtrack for being high and disappointed in the desert. Distant melodica, clattering breakbeats, lazily strummed guitar, and piles of ennui fill the air as Damon Albarn records all his vocal takes lying flat on his back. Perhaps Gorillaz
’s biggest strength as a full length album is the way it really maps out a sonic territory, even if the Spanish language “Latin Simone (Que Pasa Contigo)” is a bridge too far it still undoubtedly belongs to the same universe as, say, the bleepy pop of “19-2000” or the creepy crawler “Tomorrow Comes Today”.
At just under an hour, Gorillaz
runs a bit long. Many of the albums tracks feel like rough sketches or demos that never got finished. Both of these complaints could also be leveled at Blur’s 1997 self titled effort, and indeed Albarn considers that album’s “On Your Own” the first Gorillaz song, but then Gorillaz
carries the same charms as Blur
did. Lean into it a little and the deep cut highlights emerge, whether it’s Del tha Funky Homosapien's second turn on “Rock the House” or the country shadings of “Slow Country” there’s more to this record than the first listen reveals.
But alas, Gorillaz
just isn’t even enough to avoid being overshadowed by its big old ‘chune. “Clint Eastwood”. Its chorus feels elemental, something that sounds familiar even if you’re hearing it for the first time. It’s like Albarn simply weaved hundreds of years of hooks into one of those once every decade melodies that feels both as old as time itself and brand new every time. Del tha Funky Homosapien gets his biggest star turn ever, lacing the song with off kilter verses that seem to dance in and out of time. “Rhythm/You have it or you don't that's a fallacy/I'm in them/Every sprouting tree/Every child of peace/Every cloud and sea”.
Even though Gorillaz
is dominated by its big single, it’s still a worthy listen in terms of general curiosity fulfillment. Connecting Albarn’s vast and expansive career moves is fascinating simply because the guy never settled into the same old thing over and over when he easily could have. Gorillaz
was only the beginning of Albarn’s ‘00s decade. One that may have even made him more prolific than he was in the 90s.