Could music this eclectic ever come from anyone else but an animated band of fictional characters? Gorillaz are the missing link in the evolution of music. In reality, Damon Albarn (front man from Blur) leads the consummate side-project consisting of a diverse list of musicians from other groups. As a cartoon, the members of Gorillaz (2D, Russell, Murdoc, and Noodle) are just as diverse as the real collaborators. Russell is the husky Black drummer. Noodle is the pre-teen Asian female bass player. Murdoc is the evil guitar player who is always in a bad mood. 2D is the extremely thin lead singer who is missing teeth and has pitch black holes for eyes.
Produced by Dan The Automator, their self-titled debut album was an unexpected, mammoth underground hit. The album remained within the realm of cool music just on the border of commerciality. The debut album’s various musical styles blended together to form something completely unique. Guests included Del The Funky Homosapian (from Oakland’s Hieroglyphics), Cibo Matto (from Japan), and a distinct list of other artists. The classic songs, “Clint Eastwood” and “I-9000” were weird enough to satisfy eccentric tastes but accessible enough to gain wide appeal. This delicate balance earned the group success without ever branding them un-hip or played out.
Just as eclectic as their debut LP, their precious 2005 “Demon Days” LP is significantly more cohesive. Without the headache inducing guitar noise or bombastic drums beats, the superb 2nd album overcomes any superstitions of a sophomore slump. While Dan The Automator’s signature production is absent from “Demon Days”, DJ Danger Mouse takes the unique album’s production duties with the same energetic innovation. Danger Mouse gained worldwide fame as the producer who made the controversial “The Grey Album”. The mythical concoction mixed vocals from Jay-Z’s “Black Album” with sampled music from “The White Album” by The Beatles. Legal issues and copyright problems forced “The Grey Album” to be one of the most bootlegged CDs of all time. (Ebay was selling bootlegs for over $200!) In true Gorillaz style, the “Demon Days” LP has bigger guest-list. The assortment includes Shaun Ryder (of Happy Mondays), Bootie Brown (from The Pharcyde), Trugoy (from De La Soul), Dennis Hopper, MF Doom, Roots Manuva, Martina Topley Bird (from Tricky), and The London Community Gospel Choir. “Demon Days” is magnificently wild yet poignantly heartfelt. The album mixes hip-hop, indie rock, punk, and trip-hop together to create a genre-defying style. The group’s name is somewhat appropriate. Real gorillas are powerful, respected within the animal kingdom, known for their attitude, and consistently funky. With the strength of real gorillas, “Demon Days” by Gorillaz is a collection of anthems for the modern urban jungle. These are the “Demon Days”, and they are days when Gorillaz have the power and poignancy to survive this jungle of music.
The signature sound of Gorillaz never sounds typical. The awkward rhythm along with Albarn’s bizarre vocal performance in “Feel Good Inc.” adds to accessibility by an electric performance from Trugoy (from De La Soul). The oddly catchy chorus is a psychedelic breath of fresh air. The beat stops, a strumming guitar comes out from nowhere, and Albarn (2D) sings about windmills. “Feel Good Inc.” is a theme for complicated times of feeling good. The exciting music is perfectly complemented by Trugoy’s unorthodox style (similar to ending verse in “En Focus” from “Buhloone Mind State”). The inimitable “Dirty Harry” (featuring Bootie Brown from The Pharcyde) takes us on another magnificent musical journey. Changing in various places, the song gives the listener something new to appreciated with every play. From the innocence of children singing to the distortion of Bootie Brown’s energetic rap, “Dirty Harry” maintains a thick, funky groove. MF Doom adds his usual solid performance on “November Has Come”. The masked emcee (with an endless amount of aliases) sounds right at home over Danger Mouse’s beat. One of the most respected (and hard working) emcees in underground & independent hip-hop raises the group’s credibility level. Shaun Ryder (of Happy Mondays & Black Grape) contributes a drugged up performance on “Dare”. The techno melodies and house rhythms possess the lo-fi, gritty sound perfected by the group. Rosie Wilson sings bubbly melody in the hook as Ryder babbles with his Manchester charm. “Never did no harm! It’s dead!”, Ryder chants. Lovers of Happy Mondays will remain compelled as Ryder drives groove. The opening track, “Last Living Souls” has a structured vocal melody to complement lyrical power and eerie sound. The weird electronic production creates an eccentric feeling, but the consistent groove never sounds too odd. The song eventually transforms into a beautiful piano melody intertwined with Albarn’s heartfelt singing. “Kids With Guns” is deliciously evil, but irreverent enough to maintain the listener’s respect. “…Kids with guns / Kids with guns / Taking over / It won’t be long…,” Albarn chants in a thick cockney accent over the wicked track. Neneh Cherry adds background vocals as she borrows a line from Salt-N-Peppa (“Push it real good!”) Although Albarn and Cherry are from opposite poles, their simultaneous performances are wildly effective. Like some of the album’s other songs, the song journeys into different styles and melodies but without abandoning the song’s original feeling. Roots Manuva adds his U.K. reggae vocal styles on “All Alone”. Bombastic yet tender, Roots Manuva slightly breaks the album’s flow. The track is saved by the psychedelic musical changes that invite the listener into a new world. The beautiful intensity “All Alone” is saved by Albarn’s hypnotic melodies and Martina Topley Bird’s angelic voice. Long after the song is over, the chorus will haunt listeners. “Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head” is a funky track features the legendary Dennis Hopper narrating a bizarre tale...
The album’s magnificent two final songs display Gorillaz at the summit of their musical brilliance. The London Community Choir gives the LP a touching beauty and poignant elegance. “Don’t Get Lost In Heaven” has a bouncy piano melody is intense enough that the listener may not realize the absence of drums. The Choir fills the song’s background as dreamy guitar melodies glisten. “Don’t Get Lost In Heaven” leads perfectly into the “Demon Days” song by the euphoric strings. Sung by The London Community Choir, the finale’s melody becomes a theme for a precious moment. “Pick yourself up / It’s a brand new day! / Turn yourself around!...”, the choir sings. Albarn’s falsetto vocals enhance the touching song without sounding silly. The thick drum track lifts the listener to a height that music has not ascended to in quite a long time. The LP’s finale, “Demon Days” is an anthem for people who have no choice but to pick themselves up after falling down hard.
The album’s subtle tracks may get lost within the shadow of the powerful tracks, but will eventually grow on the listener. “El Manana” is not very catchy, but fits within the album’s vibe. The light groove behind Albarn’s sad vocals is reminiscent of Blur. “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead” is a slow burning, sad tale with a thick wah-wah guitar. “White Light” breaks the album’s flow while attempting to raise the energy level. The upbeat rock track feels out of place but proves to be only a minor detour.
“Demon Days” etches the power of Gorillaz into musical history. Since the group is animated and fictional, the musicians can take innovative artistic chances. They can basically go anywhere they desire within their musical realm. Boundaries can be crossed, envelopes can be pushed, and walls can be broken down. While their self-titled debut LP was a groovy cacophony of hip-hop, trip-hop, and punk, the “Demon Days” LP flows better and has a tighter structure. The poignancy alone may make this a classic LP in the years to come. The LP is dark yet triumphant, weird yet accessible, and innovative yet heavily influenced by past music. Many of the songs change in the middle of the track, without ever disrupting the flow. These surprising changes add to the high replay value as well heighten the LP’s quality. Although Damon Albarn has previously traveled into bizarre territory with Blur, he can venture even further as the character of 2D. As an artist, Albarn deserves respect for taking advantage of this creative freedom, which was born from animation. Dan The Automator’s absence from the “Demon Days” LP allows Danger Mouse to triumphantly prove himself. The music of Gorillaz cannot be categorized as punk, hip-hop, trip-hop, or techno. They can only be considered brilliantly and unconventionally cool. They have a gritty energy, a dirty style, a love of music, an emotional core, and a sharp poignancy. Never has a diverse album flowed with such perfection. The assorted list of guests also adds to the album’s intensity. Although fans may miss an appearance from Del The Funky Homosapian (as well as other guests from the debut), the 2nd LP’s substantial guest-list is satisfying. True fans of the debut album will appreciate “Demon Days” as well as lovers of eccentric music. While non-believers consider the Gorillaz to be a novelty, time will prove doubters wrong. “Demon Days” LP may become one of those classic albums that improve with age. Years from now, the LP may sound simultaneously dated and fresh. For these stressful times, “Demon Days” by Gorillaz may be the only album that will get us through these demonic days.