Damon Albarn strips down his line-up for a relatively guest-free follow up to Humanz
Album review: 'The Now Now' by Gorillaz is more of what fans love
The Now Now is the second album by Gorillaz in a little over a year, although given the guest appearance-laden, 20-plus track monster that was 2017’s Humanz, you could probably count it as at least two and a half.
The band themselves are keen to position this as a Damon Albarn solo album, or at least a return as the band’s driving force by Albarn’s animated Gorillaz avatar, 2-D. Animated bassist and fellow creative lead, Murdoc, has gone to prison, the band’s mythology tells us. That could explain the whimsical sense of isolation that permeates the album.
Albarn wrote the The Now Now from a variety of luxury hotel rooms while touring for Humanz, and the sense of luxury-tinged ennui is tangible – if Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation were a record, it would probably be this one. Sure, there are worse places to spend your life than five-star hotel rooms, but after so long, it must become a little soul-destroying.
Even the track titles chart Albarn’s movements from five-star suite to stage to five-star suite, with Kansas, Idaho, and Lake Zurich all getting a namecheck, and the combination of Albarn’s heavily filtered, maudlin, often politically inspired lyrics with Gorillaz’s usual, perfectly polished electronic beats and melodies is somehow the perfect companion to the singer’s road-weariness. Gorillaz have always had the strange ability to simultaneously sound like a depressed indie outfit and a glittery uplifting electro pop combo in the same chorus.
Their songs are somehow at home whether mourning a heart-rending relationship break-up in a dark bedroom or popping up on the summer playlist at Topshop, and this stripped down, relatively guest-free, latest is a perfect example. On the guest front, George Benson’s appearance on album opener Humility kicks things off on a suitably funky tip, while Snoop Dogg and house producer Jamie Principle pop up on Hollywood, but other than that, the record is a welcome break from the overstuffed guest list that was Humanz.
There’s nothing ground- breaking on The Now Now, and no real stand-out tracks in the vein of Plastic Beach or Clint Eastwood. Gorillaz have found a sound that works for them, and their fans, and stuck to it.
Besides, you could hardly accuse Albarn of being repetitive. This is a man who brought us the laddish Britpop of Blur; high-concept super groups The Good, The Bad and The Queen and Rocket Juice and the Moon; the African rhythms of Africa Express; the opera Monkey: Journey to the West – in collaboration with Chinese actor Chen Shi-Zheng; and more recently brought The Syrian Arab Orchestra to the world’s attention.
With so many musical influences permeating his work, it makes sense for Albarn to subdivide them into different groups, rather than simply confuse Blur fans with a confused third album featuring nothing but Malian drumming, and we can confirm this album contains no Malian drumming, but plenty of the tried-and-tested formula that fans of Gorillaz know and love.