Review Summary: Gorillaz continue their gradual rise in quality from these past four years and achieve a return to form.
Damon Albarn of Blur has long used his virtual band Gorillaz as an avenue to indulge in all manner of pop and electronic music experimentation. They are best known for a run of highly successful alternative rock and trip hop albums with numerous B-sides from 2000–2010. The wait time between each release gradually got longer and longer, until recent years when Gorillaz have been highly prolific and appear to currently be Albarn’s main project.
Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez
is the logical peak of a rise in quality since the low of their first release in seven years, Humanz
in 2017, which was decent but inconsistent. Highlights like “Andromeda” and “Busted and Blue” were present, but there was also too much unnecessarily filler, an abundance of guest vocalists too often taking the place of Albarn, and underdeveloped songs and interludes. What makes Strange Timez
even more of an achievement is how it functions as an anti–Humanz
. Just as many guest singers, and perhaps even more musically sprawling, but has room to breathe and sounds inspired, evolved, and depthful.
Musical styles fluctuate from track to track between psychedelic pop, funk, soul, alternative rock, electronic, hip hop, etc. and almost feels like a greatest hits of every side of the Gorillaz sound dating back to their inception. “The Lost Chord” resurrects the tropical bliss of Plastic Beach
to outstanding effect, with vocalists and instrumental layers including flutes and glittery synthesizers. “The Pink Phantom” featuring Elton John functions as a laid back ballad and could be a sequel to “Cloud of Unknowing.” Other standouts on the first half include the loopy title track featuring Robert Smith of The Cure and a dense Demon Days
throwback song “The Valley of the Pagans” featuring Beck.
is more ambitious in the second half, blooming and coming alive in glorious fashion, with the exception of the middling underdeveloped rap song “Friday 13th.” Each track explodes with energy and creativity, being Albarn’s most inspired work since Plastic Beach
and Demon Days
. “Aries” makes use of great rhythms and a 1980s lead bass line while Albarn’s vocals channels The Cure. “Désolé” soars with a flavor of bossa nova, featuring violins and vocals from Grammy nominee Fatoumata Diawara. With the six bonus tracks included, especially the first three, this album is at least 80/100. “Opium” might even be the best song out of all seventeen.
The openness and inclusivity of Strange Timez
makes it hard not to like. There is something for everyone and a huge amount of talent behind the songwriting and recording that makes it feel truly substantial. For anyone who thought Humanz
was lacking, this completely rectifies it and proves that Gorillaz can sound like themselves while featuring a slew of various guest musicians and using them appropriately. Strange Timez
doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground, but it’s Damon Albarn’s strongest release since Plastic Beach
and an infectious celebration of the unique legacy of Gorillaz.