For anyone yet to have their fill of Damon Albarn projects this year, D-Sides should surely finally satisfy. Following a Chinese opera, the launch of a new band – The Good, The Bad & The Queen – and a collaboration with Kano, Albarn’s biggest commercial success waves goodbye to 2007, and presumably its shelf life, with a collection of b-sides, out-takes and remixes from the D-Sides period. The first Gorillaz album spawned a similar collection, called G-Sides.
Two CDs make up the offering, with the second disk comprising remixes, several of which are already in the public domain. DFA’s remix of Dare appeared on DFA’s own compilation earlier in the year, for instance. That 12-minute epic aside, not all the remaining remixes are top notch. Jamie T‘s reimagining of Kids With Guns is close to unlistenable, while Hot Chip‘s take on the same track is a snoozy affair that calls Aphex Twin to mind. Later, a Mandarin version of Dirty Harry (Chinese New York Mix) takes Gorillaz in a startling eastern direction.
But D-Sides’ real interest is in the early demos and rarities that make up the first disk. As is the case with such catch-all projects as this, the quality is necessarily variable here too. People is what Dare sounded like before Shaun Ryder splattered “It’s DARE” all over a microphone and, by the time it ends, it’s easy to be pleased that he did – without him it sounds unfinished. But Hong Kong, recorded for Warchild with zither player Zeng Zhen, provides evidence of Albarn’s lately acquired China-centric thinking. It’s the lushly rearranged highlight, dripping with atmospheric strings and sounding like nothing else he’s made.
Not all make such an impact. Rockit, with “blah blah blah blah blah” replacing much of the vocals, is simply unfinished. We Are Happy Landfill is flotsam that floats by unmemorably. Bill Murray, a collaboration with The Bees, heads in a direction similar to The Good, The Bad & The Queen’s Ice Cream Van, though without vocals – good enough as the B-side it was, but Albarn wisely self-edited this off D-Sides proper.
Stop The Dams, a glittering, cosy mix of acoustic guitar and battered synths that builds with vocals and trumpets in a laconic fashion, is another collaboration, this time with Sugarcubes‘ Einar Orn, protesting against dam-building in Iceland’s wilderness. It’s another stand-out – like Hong Kong, there are few comparable tracks in Albarn’s canon, making it something of a curiosity.
As with The Good, The Bad & The Queen and Blur, the indications here are that Albarn thrives most on collaboration, but there’s already little doubt that each project drives another for him. If anything, D-Sides offers an intriguing insight into Albarn’s creative processes, allowing as it does half-finished numbers to see the light of day and providing evidence, were it needed, that the sometime Britpop poster boy continues to push boundaries prolifically and, for the most part, successfully.