Last year’s Humanz, Gorillaz’s first album for seven years, certainly split people down the middle. While we called it “A fantastic demonstration of talents from a multitude of genres”, some were unhappy about its overblown, collaboration-heavy rhythm. Not to worry for those people, though, because Damon Albarn has you covered. Recorded while on their US tour, essentially so he could continue to tour the virtual band at this summer’s festivals, The Now Now is a stripped-back affair, boasting a sound that is closer to the group’s fourth record, The Fall, than anything else. Plus, two songs aside, it’s collaboration free, mainly focussing on Albarn/2D’s luxurious voice.
Ever so slightly moving away from the group’s grand concepts, this is, at least on paper, their least ambitious and most mainstream music in years. Essentially a solo album for 2D, it cleverly continues the bombastic storyline of our favourite virtual band as their menacing bassist Murdoc is currently serving time in prison, and has been replaced hilariously by the Powerpuff Girls’ Ace, and The Now Now is the product of the lowkey, mawkish 2D reprising his role as the band’s creative driving force.
That’s not to say that it’s a one trick pony, however. The Now Now is sprawling with a variety of all corners of pop music. Take opener and lead single ‘Humility’, one of the finest songs on the record. Its summer party anthem meets 90s West Coast hip-hop is paired with dreary lines about loneliness that could be read in many ways. Opening line: “I don’t want this isolation/See the state I’m in now?” could well be a reference to Albarn’s opinion on Brexit after his BRIT Award acceptance speech made up of, “I’ve got one thing to say and it’s about this country. This country is, believe it or not, quite a small, little thing but it’s a lovely place, and it’s part of a beautiful world. Don’t let it become isolated, don’t let yourselves become cut off. Considering our size, we do some incredible things in music. We got a real spirit and a real soul. Don’t let politics get in the way of that shit”. Make no mistake, this is as much a Humanz successor as it is a successor to Damon Albarn’s own Everyday Robots.
Elsewhere, there’s the snappy grooves and squelchy synths of ‘Tranz’, the song that most exudes Humanz‘s ‘party at the end of the world’ ethos; the stripped-back nature of ‘Idaho’ and ‘One Percent’ which exhibit just how wonderful Damon Albarn’s voice is this far into his career, and ‘Lake Zurich’ is a fidgety instrumental number spurred by jazzy connotations. It’s an album that is as diverse as it is impressive, and proof that Albarn can do pretty much anything he tries his hand at.
Ironically, after Humanz, this is Gorillaz’s most human release; it’s a welcome and honest release for a band that has pretty much stripped back its visual elements over relatable and, dare we say it, human lyrics. Gone are the surrealist moments, Gorillaz have grounded themselves in the here and the now (now). It’s a brilliant pop album made up of a variety of tunes that zip with vitality, affection and a whole melting pot of brilliant ideas proving that, after twenty years, Gorillaz still stands as a vivid and luscious creative outlet for Albarn.