Review Summary: A surprising album for one of the group's best
The new Gorillaz album is here! The Now Now is the sixth studio album from the virtual group Gorillaz. This album was supposed to have a more upbeat vibe after the darker and paranoid filled Humanz from 2017. The Now Now is pretty much a knee jerk response to the mixed reception of (the unfairly maligned) Humanz. Is this a good album❓ Was this a better album than Humanz❓
The sound of this album is an interesting case. It’s a bit more of a pop album then, the hip-hop sounds of Plastic Beach or Humanz. Those expecting the rock sound from their first two albums will be sorely disappointed as The Now Now sees the continuing influence of electronic music. A lot of the times, this album is electro-pop. Compared to the dark cynical sound of Humanz, this album is seen as having more of an upbeat summer sound. This isn’t actually all that true though. Yes, the lead single “Humility” is a very happy song and starts the album excellently, but a lot of the album is actually really somber and downbeat. The only other songs that actually sound really happy and upbeat would be “Tranz” and the closer “Souk Eye”. “Kansas”, “Idaho”, and “Sorcererz” are optimistic, but definitely not happy-sounding. Other songs, such as “Fire Flies”, are just not happy songs in general and come with a much more desperate and sad tone. The most surprising thing about the sound of The Now Now is that there’s only one rap verse on the entire thing from Snoop Dogg on “Hollywood”. It’s not even a long verse in the grand-scheme of things, although he does great with the short time he has.
From a songwriting standpoint, this album might be one of their strongest efforts yet. Sure, I said that the album’s summer vibe isn’t accurate, but that doesn’t stop the more somber songs from being excellently written. Musically, there are very few times where I feel that this album drags. There’s “Lake Zurich” with it’s constant layering of different elements that never sounds chaotic. In fact, it sounds like it’s in perfect control throughout. The energetic “Tranz” is always moving and sounds like it could be from the eighties based off of some of the synth lines. There is also the subdued “Idaho” which sets up a great atmosphere that puts attention onto 2D/Damon’s vocals. “One Percent” has a really spacey vibe that’s reminiscent of “Busted and Blue” from Humanz. The only problem with the album from a musical standpoint is that some of the songs can start to blend together. Even then, this really only applies to the first few listens.
Lyrically, this album is still really strong. “Humility” sets up the album perfectly with its positive lyrics giving you a fun song to kickoff the album. “Tranz” has really bizzare lyrics about dancing that gives it a nice quirky personality. There are also “Kansas” and “Idaho” about being on the road and the hardships and joys of such things. The really good lyrics come in the songs like “Hollywood”, “Fire Flies”, and “Sorcererz”. All three are more serious in tone compared to the rest of the album with “Hollywood” showcasing negative attitudes toward the culture of Hollywood. “Fire Flies” is a really dramatic song that seems to be about a lost love (I think). “Sorcererz” isn’t that serious lyrically, but the music itself makes it come off as weak optimism. There are more songs with quirkier lyrics like “Souk Eye” that are good. While those are still great in their own right, it’s the serious songs that gives this album the somber mood that it tends to have. Lyrically, this might be the group’s most consistent work yet with none of the issues that the past releases have had (like the out of place Trump dissing on Humanz).
If Damon/2D’s vocals weren’t up to par then, the lyrics wouldn’t matter. There’s good news though because he is mostly doing great throughout the album. He has a positive delivery when needed like “Humility” and “Tranz”. On the slower songs, he sounds more longing which somehow really fits in with the travelling aesthetic of those kinds of songs. Damon/2D also uses a spacier delivery on “One Percent”. His best moments are when he sounds more sad or desperate. His delivery on “Hollywood” is sleepy-sounding without him sounding bored. It contributes nicely to the dreary feel that the song has. The best performances however belong to “Fire Flies” and “Sorcererz”. His delivery on both sound more dramatic and emotional with the former having a louder desperate tone to it and the latter having a more helpless vibe. The beats never fail him either. They tend to be complicated and full of layering like a lot of the Gorillaz’s past work, but this time they don’t sound as chaotic. The beat-work on “Magic City” sounds really light, fitting the dreamy tone of the song. There’s also the simplistic beat on “One Percent” and the more sparse instrumentation on “Idaho”. Yeah, the beats do tend to run together, however, there is enough to differentiate each of them.
One of the most important things for an album to do is to feel cohesive. It has to flow well and act like a cohesive experience. There is more good news as this is probably the group’s most cohesive work to date. The album actually feels like an album unlike the song-by-song nature of their debut or The Fall. Every song feels like its off of the same album and nothing really feels out of place. There are of course songs that are better then others however, there’s no denying that this album runs smoothly throughout. The music flows masterfully and the way that “Lake Zurich” is a bit of a transition into more optimistic and energetic material is amazing. There’s also the fact that the book-end tracks are the most upbeat tracks on the whole album making you feel good when it’s all over. Due to the smooth flowing nature of this album, it can be really addicting and replayable despite some of its flaws.
Speaking of those flaws, there are actually a few minor issues that do bring the album down a little bit. First off while “One Percent” is a nice song there isn’t a whole lot of reason for it to be on the album. It could be taken off and most people wouldn’t care much. It doesn’t help that whatever effect this song would have is defeated by the happy “Souk Eye” that’s right after it. There’s also the fact that for a band who excels at choruses, there really aren’t that many amazing ones on this album. Sure, “Fire Flies” and “Tranz” have great hooks. Other then that❓ Well, none of them are bad choruses, but most of the memorability of this album comes from everything that isn’t the chorus. A tad strange for the Gorillaz who have addicting hooks on all of their albums. I did say that this album’s cohesion was fantastic, but this also means that the weird side of Gorillaz is missing because there isn’t much experimentation. Another problem that occurs from this cohesion is that there aren’t that many songs that are as good as the highlights from their previous albums except for “Fire Flies” and “Lake Zurich” (their best instrumental). It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, but it’s not too big of an issue.
Taking everything into consideration, what you end up with is an album that’s better than the sum of its parts. There are flaws, but there’s so much good about this release that you shouldn’t ignore. It’s a grower, but there is a really good listening experience in this album. At the end of the day, this album might be up there with Plastic Beach and Demon Days as their best work. The Now Now has the best consistency out of all of the Gorillaz albums with no real lowpoint to speak of. From start to finish, it’s an enjoyable release that tops Humanz and The Fall. The conclusion is that this album was a very successful one and I hope that the band can release more music that’s as consistently enjoyable as this was.