Gorillaz’ ‘The Now Now:’ Does it Hold Up?

Music Reviews :: 07.12.18
Gorillaz graphic by Bobby Nicholas III.
Gorillaz graphic by Bobby Nicholas III.
gorillaz-03
- By Owen Murray -

In 2001, Gorillaz released their self-titled debut and established themselves as a “virtual band.”  The project was masterminded by Damon Albarn, frontman of the legendary Britpop band, Blur, and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett. The band is made up of four colorful animated characters. There is 2-D on vocals, Noodle on guitar, Murdoc Niccals on bass, and Russel Hobbs on drums.

Gorillaz was a solid debut that included “Clint Eastwood,” which remains one of the band’s biggest hits.

However, it wasn’t until the Gorillaz sophomore album Demon Days that they established themselves as more than just a Blur side-project.

Along with 2010’s Plastic Beach, Demon Days helped Gorillaz establish an identity of their own. They quickly became a definitive band of the 2000s. Both releases were incredibly cinematic and featured a well-curated cast of collaborations. These included hip-hop legends such as De La Soul, Snoop Dogg, MF Doom, and Mos Def. Rock legends like Lou Reed and The Fall’s Mark E. Smith were also added.

After Plastic Beach, Gorillaz went into a period of relative inactivity aside from a few minor and unofficial releases. Among these was the full-length album The Fall which Damon Albarn made during the Plastic Beach tour using only his iPad.

Humanz, the proper follow up to Plastic Beach didn’t arrive until last year.

The album had its shining moments, but it’s major flaw was being over curated. The last two albums had found a balance between welcoming numerous collaborations and remaining a focused project. However, Humanz saw Damon Albarn playing second fiddle to his collaborators for the first time. The result was the messiest Gorillaz album to date.

Just over a year later, Albarn and Hewlett are back with The Now Now.

Possibly in response to Albarn criticism of Humanz, The Now Now is a 2-D solo album in Gorillaz canon. The album features only three collaborators. Guitarist George Benson is on the album opener and lead single “Humilty,” and house musician Jamie Principle is on “Hollywood,” where Snoop Dogg also shows up. This made him the only returning Gorillaz collaborator on the album.

In a word, The Now Now is simple. It’s not busy and bloated like Humanz, but it is also far from the cinematic, immersive experience that was some of Gorillaz’ strongest albums were known for.

Because of its light-hearted, disco-influenced sound, there’s hardly a song on this album that wouldn’t be right at home on a Spotify playlist titled “Summer Fun by the Pool [wave emoji] [sun emoji] [swimming person emoji].

The album’s standout tracks come at its moodiest moments when the bubblegum pop is toned down a notch.

“Souk Eye,” the stripped back closer, might be the album’s strongest track. Albarn’s voice is front and center, accompanied by a backdrop of acoustic guitar and synths. The song is reminiscent of material on Magic Whip, Blur’s most recent albumThis is before it escalates into a disco groove with a ton character—something most of the album lacks.

The Now Now is great for casual listening. The songs are simple and easily digestible. Devoted fans looking for a more engaging listen might be disappointed. But, there’s plenty of merit to The Now Now as a summertime album. 

Though it’s undeniably fun to listen to, the impact of The Now Now won’t be as lasting as Demon Days or Plastic Beach, sadly. With such a title as The Now Now, it’s possible that the album was never intended to last beyond the present. Instead, it may be intended just to be enjoyed in the now.

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