One of my earliest memories is listening to Gorillaz. I was 4 years old when I first heard a Gorillaz song, that song being 19/2000. It was so different from anything I had ever heard up until that point. It was catchy, it was energetic, it was poppy. In my room, I have a bunch of loose CD’s, and among them is my first CD; and it was 19/2000. 17 years later, I still have it. When I think of moments that changed me, I consider when I first heard that song to be one of those moments.
This track by track has been a long time coming. I love Gorillaz, and they are a very personal thing to me. When people talk about the soundtrack of their life, 19/2000 would be the song that starts off that soundtrack. This Track by Track looks at Gorillaz, from their eponymous debut in 2001 until Humanz, which was released last year. The Now Now will follow in its own dedicated Track By Track. As of the 26th of July, I have already heard this album, thanks to the Livestream from The Boiler Room. I’ll leave my thoughts on The Now Now for another time.
19/2000- Gorillaz (2001)
Honourable Mentions: M1A1, 5/4, Gravity (Sound Check)
Gorillaz first album was huge, as were Gorillaz at this point in time. Looking back to when this album was new, this was a completely unique concept for British music, and I’d argue music in general. Virtual bands are not new; The Archies were technically a virtual band, with fictional characters performing the song. But The Archies were not completely unique characters created solely for the release of music. And though on live performances, you see the humans performing the song, I personally still refer to Gorillaz as being their own, living things, as that is what they are meant to be. I hear 2D, Noodle, Murdoc, and Russell.
This album is just loads of genres of music that have been brought together, and it works. Hip Hop, rock, Britpop, dub. All of them are very rhythmic genres in their own right, so the combination of them really works. When I listen to ‘Gorillaz’ now, it begins to sound like a very nostalgic album to me, in terms of its production. Not to say that it doesn’t hold up.
Of course, 19/2000 was going to be my choice for Gorillaz’s first album, released in 2001. I never had this album growing up, presumably because I was too young, and there was a lot of bad language in it. 19/2000. Besides nostalgia, I think 19/2000 is technically a great song as well. Tina Weymouth from Talking Heads sings in this song, which is something I didn’t know until I did research for this post. 19/2000 is an uptempo, peppy song, with an earworm of a keyboard jingle that plays through the entire song.
FAUST- G-Sides (2002)
Honourable Mentions: Dracula, 12D3
G Sides, as a concept, is something that is completely alien to new music listeners. Back in the day, when a musician would release a single (usually a song that the record company or the artist thought would be popular and would lead to more album sales), one or two other songs would be put on the record, or the CD. Sometimes they’d be edits, remixes, or occasionally songs not on the album. Music has changed so much since 2002. While you may download a digital single with a remix of a song, B Sides are not the same. In my opinion, the 80’s to early 00’s were the golden age of the B Side, with some bands releasing two CD singles with different tracks on them!
Gorillaz were the masters of this back in the 00’s, and would often record lots of songs that were not released, or would be included as a B Side on a CD single. G Sides is a compilation of all the B Side songs from the first four singles. Faust comes from the Rock The House B Side; a song which I am not as fond of. Faust is quite a short, and melodic song. Minimal drums, and built around a keyboard melody, and a duet sang by 2D and Noodle.
DARE-Demon Days (2005)
Honourable Mentions: El Manana, Kids with Guns, Fire Coming Out of a Monkey’s Head
If ever an album needed to succeed to prove a concept’s worth, then Demon Days is an excellent example of how to do it. The album sees a number of major changes which affect the sound, the tone, and the music on this album. Dan ‘The Automator’ (who produced the first album, as well as the album Peeping Tom) was out, and Danger Mouse was in. Also replaced was the original voice of Noodle, which I personally cannot understand why. Perhaps the original singer was busy. Demon Days is a concept album of sorts, a darker and lightly political masterpiece that some dub ‘Dark Pop’. It is a much more complexly produced album, with strings, choirs, and a more refined blend of the genres that made up the first album.
It was hard to pick a song from Demon Days, as I think there are a few great songs on there. I only pick Dare because it is as good as any on this album. It’s just that consistent. The dancing Teen girl singing with the giant, disembodied head of Shaun Ryder is a music video that was everywhere in 2005, and the song ain’t bad either. DARE’s catchy hooks and whirring keyboard melody make it a joy to dance to, and to listen to. It just puts you in a good mood. The music itself is multilayered and was deserving of being Gorillaz only UK number one. It certainly is a song that was deserving of that feat, though I think others deserved that recognition by listeners as well. Demon Days, for me, is the commercial peak of Gorillaz. It was the band at their best from that standpoint, and it’s not hard to see why. The album is great, from the parable delivered by Dennis Hopper about greed and the finite world, to a song about youth violence. The album speaks to issues that we, as people, are only too aware of.
STOP THE DAMS- D Sides (2006)
No one initially knew that D Sides was going to be released as was. Rumours surrounding the album included: a B-Sides Album, much like G Sides, a remix album with new remixes by Spacemonkeyz (Another group who remixed the first Gorillaz album and named it Laika come Home), or something else. What we got was a double album, of B Sides, a demo, and some remixes. None of them by Spacemonkeyz though. D Sides is a slightly stronger compilation than G Sides, though I don’t care for remixes myself. I never bought the singles for Demon Days, but these B Sides are generally quite good. It was harder to pick one than I thought, as I relistened to it. The songs here are really strong B Sides in their own right. I picked Stop The Dams because it is such a melodic song, mostly acoustic, not overly produced. Its quite clearly about stopping dams being built, but I see a deeper meaning in it. I think it is about emotional barriers, as well as physical ones, touching on depression as well as environmental damage. I think its multifaceted.
TO BINGE: Plastic Beach (2010)
Honour…Oh, just listen to the album.
I have talked about this album to death, and I am not going to repeat it here. You should read my track by tracks on this album (I did two). Plastic Beach is my favourite Gorillaz album. To Binge, however, I had not really given much of a review on. So I will. ‘To Binge’ is so different from the songs on the other albums I have chosen. It is a lot slower, for starters. Thematically, it is such a grounded song as well. It’s about a relationship that’s broken up or at least ending. The song’s title can be interpreted as saying that this is a song about how you spend too much time with someone who you have lost a connection with, and how damaging that can be. I might be entirely wrong, but that is my interpretation of what is a highlight on this album; which in its own way is about excess in another sense.
THE PARISH OF SPACE DUST: The Fall (2011)
Honourable Mentions: Phoner to Arizona, Revolving Doors, Amarillo
There was no ‘P Sides’ B Sides or remix album. We get, in its place, The Fall. An album recorded during the US tour for Plastic Beach. It was produced using, of all things, an iPad. This album sticks out like a sore thumb, compared to its predecessors. It is very rough, not slickly produced, and simple. Lo-Fi would be the polite way to refer to this one. A lot of people do not like this particular album, because it is such a step away from what had come before. Personally, I see the merit of it, though it isn’t my favourite album. I admire the effort put into making an album on the road during a live tour, though.
Oh, how I love The Parish of Space Dust as a piece of excellent Electronica, that really conveys the feeling of travelling around a country. The tuning of the radio stations, as well as starting the song with the line ‘Oh Texas, can you hear me?’ and ‘Where home is a bus, in the parish of space dust’. Even the title is wonderful. Does space dust refer to the fact that dust is made up of dead skin cells and other junk, and that as the band is British, their dust is alien? Maybe I am thinking about it too deeply. Houston is home to a space centre, after all.
CHARGER- Humanz (2017)
Gorillaz took a 6-year break after The Fall. They released one, non-album, song in 2012 before Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett fell out. They did reconcile though, and the resultant reunion saw Humanz released last summer. Humanz was meant to be akin to Plastic Beach, with the commentary of Demon Days. A creative response to modern day politics, by ‘young’ people, against what is seen, by some, as ‘the end of the world’. In conversations with people, I refer to this album as a mixtape for the apocalypse. And it failed.
Would I go so far as to call it a bad album? No, lots of effort was put into it by lots of different artists, more collaborators than any other Gorillaz album. Besides a few highlights, namely Charger and a few others, it really didn’t do it for me. I have a few opinions as to why that is: Firstly, I don’t think musically the album meshed together very well, it was too electronic.
Secondly, it was hard to discern the different musical personalities of the band. I couldn’t hear Gorillaz in this album. Thirdly, I think people are sick of artists making huge political statements in their work. I am all for expression and the freedom of expression, but I just don’t think this was the album we needed.
Charger stands out as a good song because it is the more unique pieces. Grace Jones does an excellent job on this album, I feel. According to the official wiki article on the song, she basically sang for 4 hours to the basic beat of the song. I am not a fan of Grace Jones, but she is one hell of a singer.
As for this album, I think another problem is the length. 20 tracks on the basic version, 25 on the deluxe version, and over 30 on the super deluxe edition, which is available only on vinyl for over £200. Great statement, guys. I was let down by Humanz, I think a lot of people were, because of a multitude of reasons. I can only hope that if I revisit this album down the line, I may find more I like, and I do. Stobelite used to be a song I hated, but I quite like it now, as well as De La Soul’s song Momentz; which is the most Gorillaz song on the album.
And, for better or worse, that’s the first 5 albums by Gorillaz, plus the B Side albums. The Now Now is out on Friday, and I will be writing my Track by Track on it when I have it. I am looking forward to reviewing it, and I hope you will join me in the discussion when its out…OH, I FORGOT
SLEEPING POWDER- Sleeping Powder (2017)
This song is great. It singularly rectified the problems Humanz had with its music video, its surprise release, due to being made within the space of a few days, caught me off guard. I really enjoy it as a little jam piece that 2D made. It can also be construed as an apology to the fans who may not have enjoyed Humanz. This is a real throwback to the Demon Days sound, with the lo-fi production of The Fall, that really works well.