August 11, 2018

Gorillaz - The Now Now Review


In terms of an all-encompassing artistic package, few bands come close to the audio-visual experience that is the Gorillaz. The only group that immediately comes to mind who truly comes close to or possibly exceeds in their musical and visual cohesion may be an act such as Tool, but not many bands show as much complete dedication to their visual aesthetic as Gorillaz, a co-collaboration between British singer-songwriter Damon Albarn and comic artist Jamie Hewlett. These two members have worked in tandem with each other to birth a mythology of virtual cartoon band members to go along with their albums, singles, and music videos. These four members, named Murdoc, Russel, 2-D, and Noodle, broke through the rock, electronic, and hip-pop mainstream consciousness with their storied music videos and live, projected stage presence with Albarn and his backing band. Just a year after releasing their feature-stuffed, colorful, and somewhat polarizing album Humanz, their legacy continues with their spontaneously released follow up, The Now Now.

After receiving some criticism for Humanz having the most guest features and collaborators to date, a hallmark ingredient of Gorillaz songwriting, Albarn and Hewlett opted to cut a record with significantly less guests, and decided to focus on an album primarily geared toward Albarn's singing and the band's live performance, which was recorded in a short span of time to be ready to debut during 2018's summer festival season. This process has only been replicated for their 2010 album The Fall, which Albarn recorded solely on his iPad during their Escape to Plastic Beach Tour, and subsequently didn't require any extensive planning or studio sessions with multiple guests. It's the only Gorillaz album which has been released in quicker succession than The Now Now, having been released in December, the same year as their third album, Plastic Beach. Albarn has stated about The Now Now that he wished to push out a new album similar to The Fall, but have it feel more cohesive and complete, and to make it more focused on his band's live performance as they prepared for touring in 2018.

As evidenced in the album title and artwork, Gorillaz seem to have taken a turn from the meticulously planned out, heavily produced, and sometimes experimental, Humanz for a spontaneous songwriting session in the studio, making music as it comes to them in the now. The artwork itself, featuring a bright and playful color scheme and virtual member 2-D, lead singer of the group, sitting on a stool and playing an electric guitar, lends to the credence that The Now Now is more rock, or live performance centric. Also a nod to this: their first feature is jazz guitarist George Benson on their opening track and first single, "Humility". As The Now Now plays out, it's apparent that Albarn took a highly optimistic approach in creating this piece of work, as it diverts in tone and atmosphere from its sometimes brooding predecessor. The feel good nature of "Humility" sets the vibe for the rest of the album, and is a positive message for anyone who needs a pick-me-up or motivation to be the best versions of themselves, as Albarn sings in the chorus, "Reset myself and get back on track, I don't want this isolation, see this state I'm in now?" Albarn seems to have reset himself and humbled himself for the music on this record.

"Tranz", the second track, follows the same energy wave of the opener, and turns on the synth pop dance vibes, as Albarn wants to put listeners into a "trance". "Oscillate yourself tonight, when you're in your bed, assimilate the dopamine, I send through your head, when you get back on Saturday night, And the room is cavin' in, do you look like me, do you feel like me, do you turn into your effigy, do you dance like this, forever?" Albarn doesn't shy away from suggestive subject matter, and his climax in the chorus doesn't hesitate release a groovy and subversive energy, brewing with sexual awakening. Albarn insists that we are all cut from the same cloth, and we burn our effigies (shame) as we release the stress of our hard and busy days. This ecstasy, anthropomorphized in music, elevates Albarn to one of the most clever songwriters in modern day. "Hollywood", the third track, and only hip-hop centric song, opens with funkadelic gyrating bass and bubbly synth-y beats, is the final track to feature guest artists: Jaimie Principle and Snoop Dogg, who reprises himself from Gorillaz' opening track "Welcome To The World of The Plastic Beach". The final single to be released thus far, "Hollywood" fits into the album well enough, and doesn't take anything away from the rest of the mood in the album.

Other notable songs in this trim album include the forward moving "Sorcererz", with notable, positive lyrics, "Everybody hold on, everybody hold onto your inner vision", and the funky festival dance track, "Lake Zurich". Before you know it, the album ends with "Souk Eye", a gentle acoustic closer which builds with bossanova vibrations. The Now Now begs listeners to be played again, making this Gorillaz' shortest album to date, running just 11 tracks and 40 minutes long. When compared to their previous offerings, this album would be a perfect jumping off point for any new listeners of the group, while offering a breath of fresh air to any longtime fans who have grown a bit tired of their experimental and genre bending ways in Plastic Beach and Humanz. It is the most cohesive and straight-forward release that Albarn and Hewlett have put together, making The Now Now a must-listen for any fans of electronic, pop, or rock music.

The Now Now: 8/10

Recommended Tracks: Hollywood, Sorcererz, Lake Zurich