fri 21/09/2018

CD: Gorillaz - The Now Now | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Gorillaz - The Now Now

CD: Gorillaz - The Now Now

Damon Albarn moves front and centre in a surprisingly upbeat record

The unexpected early return of the world's biggest virtual band

It’s hard to know who to write about when reviewing a new Gorillaz release. According to the official line, the band have shorn their usual guests to focus on the core creative team: vocalist 2D, drummer Russell, guitarist Noodle, and new bassist Ace, borrowed from The Powerpuff Girls. Of course, behind these virtual masks is Damon Albarn, who’s teamed with experienced producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Simian Mobile Disco, Haim) and regular collaborator Remi Kabaka to create a surprisingly personal and upbeat record.

Gone are the dystopian worlds of environmental ruin and elitist overlords of previous releases. When writing last year’s Humanz, Albarn asked collaborators to imagine Donald Trump won the 2016 election, thinking it a terrifying but unlikely prospect. For The Now Now, he perhaps felt we need a happy escape from our brave new world.

This is by far Albarn’s most accessible album since Demon Days, perhaps even since Blur’s self-titled ’97 release. Opener “Humility” sets the mood with a chilled summer groove, synths popping irresistible bubblegum melodies. It oozes confidence and cool, which bleeds across most of the album’s runtime. “Kansas” boasts their most gorgeous lead since 2010’s “On Melancholy Hill”, while “Fire Flies” is driven by a bassline that echoes “Awaken My Love”.

The Now Now brings the best melodic grooves from the previous two albums, and adds a focus that was sometimes lost. By handing over production duties, Albarn has given his full attention to the songwriting and performance. In successive albums, his singing became less prominent, but here it’s taken centre stage again. His voice is everywhere, from melodic hooks and synthetic pads, becoming an instrument as dextrous as the synths it accompanies.

It very much feels like an Albarn album – he’s not even putting on the 2D voice for much of the record. At times, it almost feels retrospective: tracks “Idaho” and “One Percent” are The Good, The Bad & The Queen songs in all but name, while “Hollywood” seems to completely imitate “Sex Murder Party” from the previous album, down to guest vocals from Jamie Principle. It also seems to share DNA in places with recent debutant Boy Azooga’s release 1, 2, Kung-Fu: a synth-rhythm exploration of musical influences.

The Now Now was recorded by Damon and co quickly, apparently so they had enough live material without relying on an army of guests. This speed is somewhat evident in the final product: it never quite reaches the songwriting and production highs of Demon Days, nor does it feel as weighty as Humanz. That said, it’s a properly enjoyable record, the highlight being the impossibly cool house disco number “Lake Zurich”. It may have been a quickie, but it will make their festival season a lot more fun to play.

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