Gorillaz is an electronic, garage-rock/hip-hop artist who got their start in 2001 with their self-titled, debut LP. Referring to Gorillaz in the singular may be surprising to even a few dedicated fans, as the artist is generally known by the animated band of ape-like humanoids, for which a vast and entertaining mythology has been created. The group was created by comic book artist, Jamie Hewlett, with the idea of creating an “Alvin and the Chipmunks for adults,” with musician and Blur frontman, Damon Albarn.
The groups early work was truly ahead of its time. Albarn melded rap, hip-hop, electronica, and even jazz elements in a way that wouldn’t become anything resembling mainstream for another decade. Unlike their Nu-Metal and early EDM contemporaries, Gorillaz struck a reserved balance between these genres that made their sound feel totally new and unique, and their albums had clear direction and struck to their concepts.
Their 2017 release, Humanz was, in my opinion, the groups first misstep in a long and excellent career. The record was bloated, often directionless, and the features-Albarn is heralded for his ability to mold and fit the style of any and all featuring artists-felt like talented musicians being shoved into roles where they didn’t belong. It was quite a disappointment, but barely a year later, Gorillaz is back with the far more impressive, The Now Now.
This album, which is Gorillaz’ sixth studio effort, is far shorter, clocking in at exactly 40 minutes, and it uses its time well. The quick pace insures that no one track over stays its welcome, but that each idea is still fully fleshed out.
The album is also almost devoid of features, save two exceptions. The first of these is “Humility,” which features George Benson, the legendary jazz guitarist who has worked with acts like Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis on top of his tremendous solo career. The track opens the record, and Benson’s guitar compliments the dreamy instrumental well. The other is “Hollywood” which has an excellent feature from Snoop Dogg and a few ad libs from Jamie Principles that add a strong dose of attitude to the track.
The sweet, dreamy vibe continues on tracks like “Magic City,” and “Tranz.” These songs use heavy synth-pop influences and thickly layered vocals to create washes of sound that develop slowly before billowing over in sugar rush choruses.
Albarn strikes a distinctly darker tone, however, on “Kansas,” “Sorcererz,” and the closer, “Souk Eye.” Here, the synth elements are still front and center, but the chord progressions take darker turn and the vocals have a more spacey quality. This works well as a counterpoint to the dreamier tracks, though they’re a bit less enjoyable.
The highlight of the album is “Idaho.” Here, the tempo is slowed down drastically, and the heavily reverbed and layered vocals take center stage. Gorillaz is often called a “postmodern,” band for many reasons, not the least of which is their general detachment from emotion. This makes “Idaho” all the more special, as Albarn’s weaves his own heart into this track and it shows.
This is followed by the worst track on the record, “Lake Zurich.” There’s nothing particularly offensive about this song, but rather a general lack of anything interesting. There are no vocals, and the electronic melodies which take the lead are often repetitive and boring.
Overall, The Now Now is a large step in the right direction, and erases many of the flaws that plagued Humanz. Its runtime is wholly justified, the few features there are add a lot to the album while preserving the uniqueness of the featuring artist, the vocals are well layered and unique, and above all the electronic instrumentals are fantastic. Its an album with only a few bright spots, but nearly devoid of a weak link.
After one, singular stumble, it would appear that Gorillaz is back in full force.