Gorillaz have just released Humanz, their fifth studio album. If you were wondering, it’s been over fifteen years since Blur’s Damon Albarn teamed up with Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett to create Noodle, Russel, 2-D and Murdoc (pictured above), the fictional members that comprise the band.
At a time when the future of Blur’s 13-year-long career was in question, you may have been forgiven for thinking that maybe the Gorillaz project was just a gimmick for an aging Albarn to prolong his longevity in the increasingly youth-obsessed industry that 2001 represented.
Regardless of motive, Albarn and Hewlett’s collaboration allowed them the opportunity to create something bigger than either had previously achieved.
Their little cartoon band with its rotating roster of musical guests continues to be an enduring formula.
Nearly two decades on, and each album still feels fresh. Drawing deeply from a rich and diverse history of musical styles, the Gorillaz sound manages to blend these loans and influences with a contemporary sound that can truly be called their own.
To prepare for Humanz, I thought it would be fun to revisit the first three Gorillaz records and track the evolution of the band. Join me to see just how far they’ve come.
The debut self-titled album set the template for the Gorillaz sound. In this collection of electronic-infused indie/rock tracks, sprinkled with liberal doses of hip-hop, only a handful of these tracks really stand out. Most notable is Clint Eastwood, featuring Del the Funky Homosapien providing vocals for the verses. This catchy track was the leading single, and its animated clip gave us a first glimpse of the characters and their individual personalities.
- 19-2000 (Soulchild Remix)
- Clint Eastwood
- New Genius (Brother)
Demon Days (2005)
Despite the wider range of musical guests contributing to the songs, this follow-up gave us a far more coherent-sounding album. Demon Days paints a picture of Armageddon and chaos within the fictitious world of our band and delivers along with this, a strong musical arc with near-cinematic aspirations.
The pop really pops and the additional instrumentation succeeds in creating a compelling musical journey well worth revisiting again and again.
- El Manana
- November Has Come
Plastic Beach (2010)
This album takes the concept of musical collaboration and diversity set with Demon Days and turns it up to 11. The tracks bounce flawlessly between pure hip-hop, soul sounds, and beautiful aural textures provided by the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, sinfonia ViVA and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. The package is held together with the pop sensibility we’ve come to expect and the guest list is huge, featuring the likes of Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, and Mick Jones, to name but a few.
Lore states that this album didn’t come easily and contains remnants of an earlier project scrapped in 2009. Perhaps it’s because the Gorillaz template values eclecticism that Plastic Beach doesn’t feel like the disjointed Frankenstein it could’ve been.
- Empire Ants
- Pirate’s Progress / Three Hearts, Seven Seas, Twelve Moons
Bonus review: The Fall (2010)
Yes, it’s a Gorillaz album and we’ve all learnt by now that Damon Albarn is a musical genius, but I don’t quite believe that The Fall belongs in the same canon as the previous records. This collection of tracks was written and recorded by Albarn on his iPad while touring for Plastic Beach.
That said, The Fall remains a noteworthy example of what can be achieved on the fly and at minimal cost with a portable device and the apps available.
This was eight years ago—imagine what you could do with the technology available now.
For more music and information, check out: gorillaz.com