Release Date: Jun 29, 2018
Record label: Parlophone
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
During almost two decades in business, the mightiness of Gorillaz has been its mutability - it's a pop-rock-hip-hop-free-trade- zone where anyone from Lou Reed to Vince Staples could show up and work a groove. But that's also been its flaw: While last year's Humanz brought some fire (notably the Pusha T- Mavis Staples collab "Let Me Out"), it felt more like a streaming algorithm than a coherent album. Mastermind Damon Albarn solves this particular problem on The Now Now, the sixth Gorillaz set since he launched the project, an integrated polyglot pop LP about, fittingly enough, the need for unity in fragmented times.
On Gorillaz' last full length 'Humanz', Damon Albarn asked the album's huge cast of star-studded collaborators to imagine a future in which Donald Trump wins the 2016 US presidential election. The result, which turned out to be an eerie foresight into what was to come, sounded like some sort of apocalyptic party, each guest artist bringing such a variety of ideas and musical styles that the result sounded, at times, more like a playlist than an album of cohesive ideas. With so many ideas running through 'Humanz', there were times when the album felt jarring, but on 'The Now Now', which comes just a little over a year after its predecessor, it feels easy to just sit back and listen.
The follow-up to 2017's bloated 'Humanz' is a trim and spritely listen For the first time in his career, we find Damon Albarn on the back foot. Since he and Blur swooned their way onto the scene in the early '90s, Albarn's discography is remarkably free of absolute missteps. Sure, Blur didn't cover themselves in glory on the half-arsed 2003 album 'Think Tank', and who actually has listened to much-derided side-project The Good, The Bad and The Queen.
Back at its inception it was a chance for Damon Albarn to let off some steam. In the post-Britpop world, Blur were attempting to reinvent themselves. Whether it was a successful reinvention or not is down to how you react to 13, but it was clear that the band were coming to their end by 2001. So Gorillaz, our first true glimpse of this millennial Banana Splits, was more than just a cartoon prank.
The Now Now, the sixth full-length from Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's cartoon band Gorillaz, is the spiritual cousin of 2010's The Fall, an album that was created entirely on the road, recorded directly into an iPad. This one is a little more fleshed out than that, with many of the songs conceived and demoed in hotel rooms during last year's Humanz tour but then properly recorded in London's Studio 13 with the help of current band members James Ford and Remi Kabaka. But like The Fall, this new record rolls along like a travelogue of the journey that Albarn and co.
It's not an unusual move for Gorillaz, releasing a brief, breezy record swiftly on the heels of a magnum opus. The Fall followed Plastic Beach by a matter of 13 months, but that 2011 record was deliberately positioned as an afterthought, promoted as being written and recorded on the road and initially released to the cartoon band's fan club. The Now Now, delivered a mere 14 months after Humanz, echoes The Fall, particularly in how nearly half of its songs carry titles that salute the presumed place of their composition, but this is quite a different beast than any previous Gorillaz album.
There was a time when Gorillaz seemed like the most exciting thing in pop music. Their self-titled debut and Demon Days spawned singles that became ubiquitous while not quite sounding like anything else, and most of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's output since has been an attempt to get the lightning back in the bottle. 2017's Humanz was an inconsistent release, so full of guests that the band were sidelined and the songs lacked cohesion.
At 50, Damon Albarn is still writing songs for the world's most popular cartoon band because he believes in the romantic idea that an international charting group can change the world. Cartoons appeal to young people, which makes illustrator and co-founder Jamie Hewlett's multicultural avatars--2-D, Russel, Noodle, the "imprisoned" Murdoc, and stand-in bassist Ace--a Trojan horse for the kind of politics that people prefer not to hear from millionaires. The records range from eco-centric protests to dystopian party playlists, all full of Albarn's auteur charm and a faint scent of calculation, as if they'd been executive-produced by a bohemian pop-cultural think tank.
Gorillaz got a little bit out of hand on last year's Humanz, the group's star-studded and ultimately over-stuffed fifth album. Damon Albarn had been wrestling with what to do with the project for almost a decade since Demon Days and Plastic Beach turned it into an international success and creative tensions between him and co-creator Jamie Hewlett led to a public falling-out. His answer was to bring together a huge list of contemporary talent (Danny Brown, Kelela, Vince Staples etc) and force them awkwardly together.
Subscribe via iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS The Lowdown: With their guest-heavy 2017 album, Humanz, Damon Albarn and Gorillaz embraced the fever of the crowd. In the wake of the 2016 US presidential election, songs such as the slow-burning "Andromeda" and the more forceful "Let Me Out" proposed a sort of utopian pop collectivism as the best way forward. The answers that eluded the experts could be found by hanging out with your famous friends in the club, swapping bars and sweat and spit for as long as it took for things to finally make sense.
The theory of punctuated equilibrium posits that evolution happens in short bursts surrounded by long stretches of inactivity. This theory also applies to the Gorillaz discography. Just as Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's cartoon band released their first album in five years in 2010, then cranked out another one the same year, so "The Now Now" comes a mere year after "Humanz" broke a seven-year hiatus.
It's quite easy to lose sight of the fact that 'The Now Now' was rushed out, recorded in February in time for festival season, as it sounds typically expansive and self-assured. The cast is less star-studded than usual, but after 'Humanz' there was always going to be a dearth of collaborators. 'Hollywood' - featuring Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle - is catchy but a little bit annoying, so it's not a huge loss.