During the summer of 7th grade, a rather strange movement took place in my area, and in my age group. While they had always been slightly interesting, music videos began to be taken very seriously. The summer of 2001 saw many a video gain notoriety; Sum 41
's Fat Lip
, System of a Down[/i]'s [i]Chop Suey
, and Linkin Park
all gained huge airplay on the new video channel, MTV2. While it had overtaken the beloved "The Box" channel, us preteens still flocked to it in droves, looking at all the strange and interesting things they were doing with videos. However, there was one video that stood out from the rest. It was a strange and singularly wondrous creation; an animated video with giant monkeys destroying things. Very few knew what to make out of anything in the video, whether it be those gorillas or the ghost coming out of a large black man's head. However, Gorillaz
had made a lasting impact in my mind, and I immediately sought out the album that contained Clint Eastwood
Upon my purchase, however, I was fairly disappointed. While it was pretty good I thought, none of it lived up to the hype or Clint Eastwood
in my eyes. While at the time I wasn't a large proponent of hip hop, and I didn't have a clue as to who Dan the Automator or Del tha Funky Homosapien were, I knew this: I didn't enjoy the album. That's why when I heard announcement of this, I took it with a large grain of salt. When the (now) gigantic single came out, Feel Good Inc.
, I figured I just wasn't going to like the album once again. The song was just so bland to me. However, as the months went on, I gradually started t like the song more and more, and upon a listening of Kids With Guns
, I was intent upon buying the album. Unlike their previous effort, Demon Days
is truly an excellent effort.
This time around, Danger Mouse takes the rein in production over Dan, and surprisingly, he works far better. While Dan is undoubtedly a superior producer and much more polished, Danger Mouse (hereto forth known as "Da Mouse", as per my wishes) just interacts better with Damon Albarn (of Blur
fame, although its arguable his success with Gorillaz has reached that, at least here in the States), the album feeling far more fleshed out and concise. The loose storyline is fit together well by a very smooth track flow; while it may not be perfectly flowing, it's still a sublime experience almost all the way through. Da Mouse has crafted a dark, brooding affair, and while some of the tracks may indicate a lightheartedness not generally expected, it's usually done in such a fashion that your listening experience is exponentially heightened. It's arguably his best work thus far, and it's no wonder why he is perhaps the best current producer in hip-hop.
While Da Mouse may be one half of the creative process, Albarn still proves he knows what he's doing. His voice comes together perfectly with Da Mouse's beats and production, and while he may be a tad bit monotonous at first listen, his voice will grow on you until you wonder how come you were never a Blur
fan in the first place. While it is a strong presence in most tracks, it is showcased perfectly in the best song of the album, El Manana
. It's truly the encapsulating song of the album; Albarn gives an absolutely haunting and outstanding vocal performance, singing of... well, it's pretty much up for interpretation, but I personally think it's a mans final words before he dies. Regardless, the songwriting here is beyond anything else on the album, and it's easily the most touching song on the album, mostly due to the utter lack of hope in Albarn's voice.
While El Manana
is undeniably a strong song, there are others that come close to it, such as Kids With Guns
and the final three tracks that invariably end up bleeding together for me, Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey's Head/Don't Get Lost In Heaven/Demon Days
. Much of this album is very minimalist in tone, with Da Mouse going for atmosphere instead of a driving force that actually ends up working better in the long run, and Kids With Guns
embodies that. Initially and for most of the song being held together only by an excellent bass line and sporadic drums, it's an extremely laid back and relaxed adventure in current society and its degenerating values (particularly in regards to violence, probably of the Gun-nature). You never get overwhelmed by the song, and it does just enough to keep you hooked and interested the whole way through, something that is rarely done in hip hop or even the "mainstream" in general these days.
While that minimalist quality is fine, the conclusion of the album opts to go the complete other direction as compared to most of it. However, you'd never guess when just listening to the spoken word track, Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey's Head
. Once again featuring a smooth bass line, Dennis Hopper is an ingenious match to tell the story of the Mountain Folk. Lyrically, it's the strongest track on the album, telling of how the greedy outsiders ruin the lives of the native Mountain Folk with their greed for jewels, a rather interesting (if not quite original) take on, once again, current society. The final lines from Hopper are at once anti climatic and rather depressing, and the coda provided by Albarn once again fits his strange and unique presence within Gorillaz.
Then of course, comes the end to the album, Don't Get Lost in Heaven/Demon Days
. Completely abandoning the dark feel of the almost the entirety of the album, they are classical romps in various genres of music. While it initially feels out of place, and may continue to feel that way in some cases, I've come to expect nothing less for an ending to this album than the general happiness of these tracks. It's almost a sort of chastisement to the rest of the album, taking the gloom seeping throughout it and casting it aside. Albarn actually sounds lighthearted in the first half, and Da Mouse has to be given props to putting together a slightly pretentious, but altogether epic end to his first mainstream hit. However, the main credit has to be given to the London Community Gospel Choir, who sound incredible and give the album a life not previously seen.
The album may not be perfect, of course. There are some tracks that just drag on and/or are uninteresting, such as Last Living Souls
and O Green World
, and there are some that can become slightly annoying (Dare
and the only truly bad song on the album, White Light
. Come to mind), but in general the album is a strong foray into the melding of hip-hop into pop and rock music. While nu-metal and the supposed "rap metal" genres have tried to incorporate the two to varied success, Da Mouse and Albarn due it seamlessly and flawlessly, and with minimal actual rapping. While it's not certain, if the Gorillaz do continue on, this album could very well end up being their masterpiece, and in time, maybe even a classic. Lesser albums have reached that status, and less innovative ones at that. For the time being, though, Demon Days
is an excellent tryst in all the previously mentioned genres. Now, if only they could recruit a permanent rapper, and be done with the fun, but sometimes bland guest spots, they would be complete... ah, Kool Keith in Gorillaz... a dream of mine that will never come true.
Reccomended Tracks For Your Listening Pleasure...
Feel Good Inc.
Fir Coming Out Of The Monkeys Head