From the Guardian
Covering everything from mental health to military interventions, Damon Albarn and his celebrity friends deliver an inspired party album for a world gone mad
It is easy to forget that, on arrival in 2000, Gorillaz looked suspiciously like a self-indulgent novelty turn, the kind of project record labels feel impelled to let rock stars do when they’ve shifted so much product that “no” isn’t really an option any more.
It was a Britpop frontman and his artist flatmate’s sneery joke at the expense of manufactured pop, with cartoon figures replacing the hapless, manipulated band members and interviews conducted, a little wearyingly, in character. You would have got pretty long odds on it still existing 17 years on, longer odds still on their fifth album being a politically charged conceptual work that variously touches on the topics of racism (courtesy of rapper Vince Staples on apocalyptic choir-assisted opener Ascension), mental illness, the pernicious influence of the internet “echo chamber”, western military intervention in the Middle East, the “alt-right” belief that China has fabricated global warming, and the importance of soul music in the Thatcherite heartlands of 80s Essex (the improbable latter topic surfaces on a lovely track called Andromeda, named after a defunct Colchester nightclub, which also finds Albarn ruminating on the deaths of both his partner’s mother and Bobby Womack over a four-to-the-floor house beat and frail electronics).
And you would have been laughed out of the bookies had you suggested that it might feature among its stellar cast Noel Gallagher, a man keen to offer interviewers his considered critical appraisal both of Gorillaz’s eponymous debut (“appalling – music for fucking 12-year-olds”) and its mastermind, Damon Albarn(“That cunt is like, ‘Is there a bandwagon passing? Park it outside my house.’”) And yet, there he is, on Humanz’s rousing closing track, the unlikeliness of the situation compounded further by the fact that he’s singing: “We’ve got the power to be loving each other no matter what happens” in unison with his former nemesis.
But as Albarn would concede that things don’t always turn out as you expect. He is, after all, currently promoting a Gorillaz album whose concept was based around conjuring up the dystopia that might ensue if Donald Trump became US president. This was a notion that seemed so ridiculous and inconceivable it caused widespread hilarity in the studio when he announced it. Rather than a knowing joke, Gorillaz turned out to be the smartest artistic move of Albarn’s career, emancipating him from the Britpop millstone, revealing him not as a bandwagon jumper, but as the one inarguable musical polymath that maligned era produced. It is possible that he might have gone on to work in Afrobeat and Syrian orchestral music and write operas based on Chinese folk music had Gorillaz not been a vast transatlantic success, but it’s certainly harder to imagine.
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