Review Summary: There, there.
At this point, the road-trip album is as much a part of Damon Albarn's repertoire as his timeless hooks and voice. The self-titled Blur
was the start of this, less a literal recounting of places the band had been on a tour than a roadmap of America's music through the eyes of Albarn and Graham Coxon, passing through The Beach Boys, Pavement, Massive Attack and Nirvana like roadside attractions. It's an album filled with fantastic songs which hang together tenuously, occupying the same space only due to their shared connection with the Land of the Free, but it would set a benchmark to which Albarn could return more than 10 years later with The Fall
. This was an America through the eyes of an introvert, rough sketches of airports and bus stops with bare hints of colour between the lines. An uninspiring album, maybe, but one which reflected the dreary, jetlagged gray of the touring schedule as well as you could hope for. But Albarn still remained curiously booth-shy on an album nearly absent of collaborations, filling half the songs with iPad twinkles and bleeps instead. Which leads us to The Now Now
, the aspiring traveller's pocketbook guide to America and politics that you can take to the beach.
"Humility" might be unmatched as far as scene-setters for a Gorillaz project go. No ambient intros or indulgent interludes here, just that warm guitar immediately evoking sand between your toes and a simple lyric which all at once addresses Brexit, America and Albarn's desire for what The Now Now
might do for Gorillaz: "reset myself and get back on track". That line could stand as mission statement for the whole damn thing, a flag planted in the ground where Gorillaz wiped the slate clean, but if this album largely stays musically stationary Albarn is not content to do the same with his first star turn on the soapbox since Demon Days
. He runs the gamut from some of Gorillaz' darkest and most interrogatory material – yeah, never thought I would find myself moved by a cartoon frontman asking "am I incapable of healing？" but here we are – to their most unvarnished and personal. Albarn might attribute it to producer James Ford while Jamie Hewlett gives the nod to locking Murdoc in prison for an album cycle; whatever the cause, at 20 minutes shorter than your average Gorillaz project The Now Now
feels shockingly complete.
This is not to say it's a flawless reset. "Hollywood" skulks in the first act like a Humanz
c-side, with a solid Snoop verse overruled by Jamie Principle's godawful contributions, and "Magic City" is a surprisingly dreary affair with few of Albarn's melodic gifts on display. The album would be served well by another "Sleeping Powder" in the mix instead, or hey, just by literally including that wonderful song. As is, you may find The Now Now
lacking in energy, the crackle and snap of Gorillaz at their sharpest. I'm here to say that, five albums in, that might not be a bad thing. With Humanz
packed with enough Big Moments to last a lifetime, and The Fall
as document of the highway hypnosis caused by the spaces inbetween those Big Moments, something like The Now Now
feels uncommonly like a gift. As "Souk Eye" wound down, a spiritual brother to "Out of Time" and a defiance of the lingering darkness of "El Manana", I found myself forgetting the politics and the discourse, not bothering to try to understand or quantify. Because what we have here is an ode to just living inside those moments, big or small, instead.