Release Date: Nov 29, 2011
Record label: Virgin
Genre(s): Rap, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative Rap, Underground Rap
It is no great surprise that a group designed as a concept would eventually specialize in concept albums, so when Gorillaz abandoned the giddiness that fueled their 2001 debut in favor of dense dystopian dance-rock operas, it seemed logical and the transition was eased by Albarn’s cunning knack for sharp crossover singles. Released in 2011, The Singles Collection 2001-2011 rounds up 15 of those singles -- including remixes of early hits “Clint Eastwood” and “19/2000” and “Doncamatic,” which was added to later pressings of 2010’s Plastic Beach, but nothing from their iPad-recorded 2010 detour The Fall -- and they make for an impressively consistent body of work, with Gorillaz finding many variations within their blend of Brit-pop, hip-hop, dance, and rock. In this context, it is clear that the three singles pulled from Plastic Beach -- “Stylo,” “Superfast Jellyfish,” “On Melancholy Hill” -- didn’t reach the same heights as those from Gorillaz and Demon Days because they were cobbled by a certain dourness -- a quality lacking from the singles from the similarly pessimistic Demon Days and from “Doncamatic” -- yet they don’t offer a sour coda on this Singles Collection; instead, they indicate the complexity of this cartoon pop group, which means this compilation isn’t merely a good collection of hits, it’s a fine introduction to the multifaceted pleasures of Gorillaz.
Happy birthday, Gorillaz; you have been a complete failure. Only by the terms of your original premise, mind you, which promised to be the sort of multimedia, multi-platform, multi-everything project that seemed like a real good idea circa Y2K. The novelty of the core Gorillaz gimmick-- an edgy, anime Banana Splits that gave interviews in character and played high-tech projection live shows in place of their creators, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett-- wore off sometime around the group's third video.
Damon Albarn might as well have been standing alone on stage at Glastonbury last year. Visually fraught and confused by the lacklustre response to a set that’d seen him joined on stage by everyone from Mark E Smith to Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg, his desperate plea to get a crowd – who were in thrall to the gut-hitting nostalgia of his other music 'other band' 12 months previously - to sing along to competent, environmental-themed Plastic Beach album track ‘Pirate Jets’ crashed and burned. Standing tense, fists clenched angrily, eyes goading those he assumed would’ve been his from the off, it was the nadir of a Worthy Farm headline set that’s come to be viewed by many as a failure.
The Singles Collection 2001-2011 is a mis-named, lazy compilation that neither offers a complete picture of Gorillaz as a (cartoon) band, nor makes the sorts of choices that will endear it to its audience rather than alienate it from that audience. That it remains an enjoyable listen from start to finish is testament to the ability of Damon Albarn and his collaborators to craft an interesting pop song, seemingly on demand. Tracklist-wise, it may as well have been constructed by Wikipedia, its tracklist conforming almost exactly to the list of singles, in order, listed on the Gorillaz discography wiki page.
No more cartooning around from Damon Albarn. Wyndham Wallace 2011 Think of Blur’s Damon Albarn and one thinks of Britpop, which is rather unfair, given that he’s spent the last 15 years working on projects associated with Mali (Mali Music), Iceland (the 101 Reykjavik soundtrack), China (Monkey: Journey To The West), the Democratic Republic Of Congo (Kinshasa One Two) and more. But while his former rival Liam Gallagher reduced himself to a comic parody, Albarn found inspiration in comic art, teaming up with Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett to form the ‘animated pop group’, Gorillaz, in 1998.
What the hell were Gorillaz? A pop curio, maybe? Hindsight suggests they were crucial in determining the shape of British pop in the millennium. Gorillaz helped re-unite both indie and pop with that most Paul Morley’s jowl-wobbling of things: the abstract. With UK garage, funky house-pop and nu-metal dominating the charts, by the start of 2001 Brit indie was midway through its Dunkirk moment.