As with everything Damon Albarn has been involved with since Blur‘s The Great Escape (and much before it), Gorillaz is superb. The sleeve would have us believe that it is a “lo fi thriller” and indeed it is, full of swooping keyboards, loose beats, quantised guitars and – best of all – Buena Vista Social Club‘s Ibrahim Ferrer singing on the exquisite Que Pasa Contigo.
But the cartoon “band” themselves and the presentation suggest it is a novelty record. What has been produced, however, is a record of serious music. Albarn’s eccentric loops, falsetto and deep baritone vocals and keyboards – recalling Beck, as much of Blur’s output has done lately – are an acoustic feast.
The recent top 10 single, Clint Eastwood, was played to death by radio stations, who concentrated on a remix of the original, so it is with pleasure that we find the remix as a ‘secret’ track on this album, along with the wonderful original.
The multimedia element of the record is perhaps more fully realised than any other record released so far, with a cartoon about one of the characters’ winnebago, which leads you into a specially built section of the website. One presumes that the website will then collect data about people who have bought the album – and any one of them with a computer must surely have been curious enough to take a look at what the website offered. Exclusive screensavers and desktop wallpapers are also included.
From the lazy guitar-driven Re-hash to the paranoid yawlings of M1 A1, via the impossibly fragile Starshine and the Latin flavour of Que Pasa Contigo, there really is a song for everyone on here. The production is slick and well-executed.
Where now for Blur? Albarn’s vocals on their last single, Music Is My Radar, sounded closer to this album than any of Blur’s past output. After his collaboration with Michael Nyman for the Ravenous soundtrack, where now for the Essex boy?
If Gorillaz fails anywhere, it is in the conception of a cartoon band. When the vocals and musical style are so obviously the work of Blur’s front man, we have trouble believing that it was all the work of an animated chap called 2-D.
A minor quibble, however; for this is a great album in every sense of the word great. The boy done good.