This album is basically Humanz… but awesome
Alright, this is gonna be a long one, so strap in! Gorillaz had a bit of a rough last decade. They started it off really well with Plastic Beach, their best album yet! It featured their best and most iconic production, they’re most conceptual assortment of tracks, and it boasted such an impressive feature list. That record was near perfect aside from some low points that drag it down a bit for me. This was followed by The Fall; an album that was fine for what it was, an album that was made solely on an iPad and one that was basically just glorified Plastic Beach B-Sides, but was still a pretty subpar release. The group went on hiatus as Damon Albarn focused on other projects, but eventually returned in 2017 with Humanz; one of the greatest disappointments I’ve ever listened to. That album lacked a lot of the charm that made Gorillaz’s old music to great to me. It was more a compilation of other artists’ songs with Damon Albarn production rather than a Gorillaz album. The Now Now followed Humanz and was not a bad record by any means, but was super low impact and forgettable. However, the rollout for this album has been pretty interesting, to say the least. Just like the Joyner Lucas album earlier this year, most of the album was rolled out in single form. 7 out of the album’s 11 tracks were singles. The difference between these songs and the ones from the Joyner album was that these didn’t suck fucking ass. Now that the album is in our hands, I can safely say that BY A LANDSLIDE, the first season of Song Machinez is the best thing Gorillaz have done since Plastic Beach.
The album is incredibly diverse in sound yet never sounds incohesive. This is easily the most scattered in sound Gorillaz have sounded. Tracks range from beautiful piano ballads to their classic synthpop sound to druggy R&B to the colorful hip hop you would get from earlier Gorillaz music to whatever the fuck the title track is classified as. Like seriously...wow...Gorillaz explore so many sounds across this record, and yet the one thing that ties them together is that classic Gorillaz charm that was ever so missing on the past 2 Gorillaz albums. This wide array of sounds make it the most inclusive and fulfilling record the virtual band has released yet. The album also flows sort of like a compilation, which I’m perfectly fine with here seeing that it’s supposed to be the soundtrack to this first season of the Song Machinez series.
Much like Humanz, there are features on literally every track here. The difference between this album and Humanz is that I can clearly tell that it’s a Gorillaz track due to how colorful the tracks end up being; plus, Damon has much more presence here than he did on Humanz. The ideas are much better executed here than on Humanz too and the album’s somewhat disjointed flow works much better. Damon’s vocals are much more interesting here than they were on Humanz too. I mean, I have to talk about some tracks now just because of varied and wide the display of sounds on here is.
The opener to this thing, in the short time it’s been released, has quickly become one of my favorite Gorillaz songs. The track opens with Robert Smith of Cure fame laying down some vocals over a somewhat minimal instrumental that is building itself up. It’s so off-kilter and somewhat off-putting yet so catchy. 2-D follows this up with an almost spoken-word verse which is really great. It’s then followed by one more Pre-Chorus from Robert until the eventual beat drop which shows the usual synth-heavy and character-filled sound that is usually present on the best Gorillaz tracks. The build-up is so extreme, creating this super odd and tense sound so that the drop is near perfect. It’s such an amazing track and works even better as an opener than it did as a single.
This track is followed by The Valley of Pagans, the first new track here. It’s a more typical and to be expected track here, but it is a welcome addition to the album even if I’m not head over heels crazy for it. I absolutely love the incredibly danceable instrumental that kind of reminds me of something LCD Soundsystem would do, and 2-D’s vocals are great here. I’m just not too crazy about Beck’s vocal performance at specific points here, but it still a pretty decent song and is infinitely better than almost anything off of Humanz or even the majority of The Fall or The Now Now. Pac-Man is easily one of Gorillaz’s most colorful tracks in years, taking us back to their Demon Days sound with a super colorful and fun instrumental that reminds me a lot of November Has Come in the best of ways. It’s so fun and sounds straight out of an arcade game. 2-D lays down a pretty stunning vocal performance that perfectly sets up Schoolboy’s super hyper performance. It’s a sound I’ve been so desperately desiring from Gorillaz for a good while. Chalk Tablet Towers has this super nostalgic and bouncy instrumental with 2-D laying down some more super catchy, gloomy, and stunning vocals yet again. I love the chanted hook of this track, it’s super infectious. The Pink Phantom has both 6LACK and Elton John on it and it somehow works… need I say more?
Friday 13th is the first, and only, track I would call kinda mediocre. I love the uplifting instrumental here and what little vocal contributions 2-D has here are great, I just think Octavian doesn’t sound all that good here. I like Octavian’s album he released last year, but his vocal performance here is pretty grading and pretty monotone. This is also one of the least distinguishable as a Gorillaz song here as 2-D is barely present. However, the album does pick up again with Désolé, this incredibly beautiful and catchy ballad. I love the repeated mantras proclaims of “Désolé” in the background, the beautiful and orgasmic vocal performances from 2-D and Fatoumata Diawara, and the fusion of classic and summery instrumentation with some intoxicating and watery synths. Momentary Bliss, the first single for this album, closes this record out and it’s another contender for one of the band’s best songs. It has a super personality-filled and energetic instrumental with an incredibly hard-hitting guitar laced into the beat. Slowthai also really impresses here with one of his most energetic performances yet. The song is just pure hype in song form.
So yeah, I didn’t cover every single track but I tried to cover the bulk of the album. Now, to conclude this review, I just want to say how fulfilling this record is. If Gorillaz had released none of the singles and you asked me how I thought the next Gorillaz record would be after listening to Humanz and The Now Now, I would say pretty subpar. Gorillaz defied all expectations here and came through with one of the most vibrant and best releases yet in their entire catalog.
FAV TRACKS: Strange Timez, The Lost Chord, Pac-Man, Chalk Tablet Towers, The Pink Phantom, Aries, Dead Butterflies, Désolé, Momentary Bliss
LEAST FAV TRACK: Friday 13th