Another lovely album from Damon Albarn features a characteristically wide range of sympathetic collaborators, from Thundercat and Beck to Stevie Nicks and Bad Bunny
Some people are just born to make others jealous. You know the kind of person you just look at and wonder how they do it? Someone so incredibly talented that they were always going to succeed, no matter what life threw at them? Damon Albarn is one such human. He’s spent 30 years deconstructing popular music through constant innovation, adding such a wide range of colours to his palette along the way that it’s impossible to predict what he’ll do next.
His last release – under his own name – was a stark, monochrome vision of arctic splendour unlike anything he’d ever attempted before. 2021’s The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows is a pandemic album in the simplest sense – it’s mostly desolate, dark and uncompromising. It may be the most beautiful work of his career. Now, two years later, he’s back with Jamie Hewlett under the Gorillaz banner after a summer of festivals for an album that’s just about as far away from …Fountain as anything he’s ever done (save possibly the Mali Music or Africa Express albums).
Across the album, and in keeping with the general Gorillaz ethos, you’ll find a wide range of sympathetic collaborators from the obvious (Thundercat, Beck, Tame Impala) to the more surprising (Stevie Nicks, Bad Bunny), with each guest appearance feeling necessary to the overall narrative of the record. The album is a mostly fresh, partially nostalgic trip that blends different styles of Ye Olde Electro with modern production.
The album opens with the crunchy electronica of the title track, which has an insistent, almost video game feel – perfectly suited for guest performer Thundercat. His heavenly, syrupy tones are processed to within an inch of their life, but they’re still distinctive enough to be recognised. The same thing happens with Stevie Nicks on Oil, the second track, where she’s used as a powerful counterpoint to Damon’s vocals rather than being relegated to hushed backing vocals.
The gentle, ambient tones of The Tired Influencer highlight Damon’s fascination with all eras of Brian Eno’s output. New Gold, featuring Kevin Parker and Bootie Brown, and Silent Running (featuring Adeleye Omotayo) both showcase different aspects of what makes the Gorillaz project so fascinating. The former practically hands over the reins to Kevin Parker, making him the star of the chorus and hooks, from which longtime collaborator Bootie Brown can spiral off of, dominating the verses with his instantly recognisable dulcet tones. The latter, Silent Running, takes a previous collaborator (Omotayo has worked with Gorillaz since Humanz) and makes them the centre of attention. Bad Bunny can’t help but be the central focus of Tormenta – it sounds like a lullaby remix cut-up of tracks from one of his own albums.
While some of the guestless songs feel weaker – or at least thinner – than the collaborative works, they still fit the sonic theme and don’t rock the boat too much. Overall, this is another lovely entry into the Gorillaz discography. It’s not the best (that’ll be Demon Days, which just pips Plastic Beach) or the worst (hopefully that will forever remain the misguided Humanz album) but it falls somewhere between the debut and Song Machine in the ‘Good’ pile.