Gorillaz return with 40-minute synth-funk and pop odyssey, ‘The Now Now’
June 30, 2018
After a year of relentless touring, everybody’s favorite animated bunch has unleashed a brand new studio effort in the form of “The Now Now”,a 40-minute synth-funk and pop odyssey that serves as a follow-up to 2017’s comeback album “Humanz”. A lot has changed in the timespan between the two albums, mainly the shift in the band’s leadership as Murdoc Niccals, the infamous bass player and mastermind of Gorillaz got arrested at the start of 2018. Taking over is the band’s blue-haired frontman 2D who saw fit to try a different approach with this new album, marking a complete shift from the guest-heavy, and futuristic “Humanz”. Of course, in true Gorillaz fashion, this new phase for the band comes with a few surprises of its own, namely the new bassist of the group Ace. Infamous for being the leader of the notorious Gangreen Gang, criminals who were on numerous occasions apprehended by the ever-so-loveable Powerpuff Girls. Ace seems to have settled down and is the replacement for Murdoc, and his presence can definitely be felt in this new record.
“The Now Now” is the polar opposite of Gorillaz’ previous effort in nearly every way. Firstly, there are only 3 guest appearances on this album. The first single “Humility”, a summer bop tune full of warm synthesizers and lyrics talking about isolation, features warm guitar licks by none other than the jazz legend George Benson. This unlikely collaboration results in a song that may surprise many Gorillaz fans, who expect the band’s “dark pop” sound found on the majority of their releases. The second, and final song, to feature any guests is “Hollywood”, that contains spoken lines by Chicago house veteran Jamie Principle, and of course, Snoop Dogg. The song itself features quite heavy and bassy instrumentation that perfectly contrasts 2D’s moody voice when delivering the refrain about Hollywood and jealousy. The instrumentation becomes even wackier and ear-grabbing beneath Snoop Dogg’s lines as he raps, contrary to 2D’s criticism of jealousy “I put the cake on the plate/Jealousy and me?/Oh, we’re making a date”. The only weak point for the song is Jamie Principle, with his corny lines about Hollywood being his mistress, sounding like an out-of-place 80’s hype-man, who turned up for the wrong performance.
If there is one word that one could think of when listening to this album it would be “warm”. This is mostly due to the highly synthetic and bassy production, courtesy of Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, the producer behind the latest album of another beloved British primate collective, the Arctic Monkeys. 2D’s melancholic croons over the songs “Sorcererz” and “Fire Flies” give the impression that they could have been part of a dystopian Stevie Wonder compilation. Gorillaz are a band that is known for their enticing instrumentals that pull inspiration from many styles, but one key part of their recipe is the simplistic, yet highly memorable basslines. All the bass-playing on this album is reinforced by a filtered, 70s synth bass sound that further contributes to the “warmness” of “The Now Now”. However, they are not as memorable as on previous releases, which brings us to the biggest drawback of this record; the lack of memorable tunes. “Tranz” sounds like songs that one would find in a 2000s rock playlist, hinting at Mando Diao and The Killers, rather than Gorillaz. While one of the more memorable songs it certainly doesn’t feel like a Gorillaz song. Other songs on this album also feel like they would have fit better on certain Damon Albarn’s projects, the long-time collaborator and mentor of the band. “Magic City” sounds like a long-lost Blur B-side, while “One Percent” could have fit snuggly onto Damon’s 2014 solo effort “Everyday Robots”. If there is one song that one could say ruins the entire experience and flow of the album, it would have to be the snoozer “Idaho”. The song’s opening features an acoustic guitar that sounds like it’s setting the mood for Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian’s vocals, rather than the Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn-sounding frontman. The chorus also sounds like a throwback to Albarn’s solo material. The song “Kansas” is also incredibly moody and forgettable, despite its impressively bouncy instrumentation.
While many tunes may not be “attention-demanding”, the instrumental song “Lake Zurich” is certainly a welcome break from the breezy, warm compositions that occupy most of the album’s runtime. “Souk Eye”, the latin-influenced closer brings something newer to the table and is a solid way to finish off a sleepy, melancholic album like “The Now Now”.
This is not the mainstream Gorillaz-fan album and seems like it would please only hardcore fans. While not bad or mediocre necessarily, it does lack the usual punch, innovation, and catchiness of a Gorillaz record, and seems to be more applicable to late night drive-playlist, rather than for a consistent experience for people who enjoy interesting songwriting, unique instrumentation and dystopian-sounding bangers and genre-defying tunes.
Best songs: Humility, Sorcererz, Fire Flies, Lake Zurich