Gorillaz in Retrospective

by Audrey Avril ’19

Seriously, can we talk about the Gorillaz for a moment?

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been reminiscing (bitterly) about middle school lately, or maybe because “Feel Good Inc.” finds its way onto every single Pandora station, or maybe because creator Damon Albarn hinted that a new album is in the works for next year, I recently remembered that the Gorillaz were a thing. Then I realized that Demon Days is ten years old, Plastic Beach is five years old, and the band was made up of virtual members with a dark and convoluted story line involving cyborgs and ghosts and a lot of monkeys and that we, the fans, were actually pretty ok with it. Seriously, what?

To see if I can try to reconcile all this, let’s start at the beginning. The Gorillaz started as a virtual band created by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett in 1998, and has been one of Albarn’s pet projects since. However, the “real” stars of the show were made to be the virtual band members. Through their dark, complicated, vibrantly-animated antics, Murdoc (bass), 2D (vocals, keyboard), Noodle (guitar, keyboard, background), and Russel (drums), wove a story inside and out of the music that is both a biting satire of band culture and an artistic journey in its own right. The band gets created, gets famous (with Demon Days), fights, falls apart, gets back together (via drugging and kidnap), replaces members (with a cyborg), and strikes gold again (on Plastic Beach). While it makes for a seriously confusing lead to follow, the whole experience of the Gorillaz culminates in a brilliant connection of visual art and sound. The music video for “On Melancholy Hill” is a perfect example in that it’s beautifully done and, if you don’t follow the animated group’s career (and even if you do), perfectly confusing.

At the center of it all, though, is the music. The project is the quintessential side experiment that takes on a life of its own, with each album just as undefinable and influences untraceable as the next. Characteristic are those delicious beats, as their best often utilize a sturdy hip-hop base with sudden bursts of orchestration (plus a hint of BritPop?). There are also almost always half a dozen collaborators for each album (Snoop Dog!). Gorillaz is where it all began, and it only grew from there. Demon Days and especially tracks like “Dare” and “Feel Good Inc.” are a sinister, rugged, and unapologetic jaunt through a dismal mid-2000s. If Demon Days is the album we all listened to in our over dramatic middle-school years (guilty), then Plastic Beach is our teen favorite remastered, similar enough to bring that sweet nostalgia but with a greater mastery and diversity that appeals to our more (maybe) mature tastes. Both are quintessential albums for their time, and ours. Maybe it’s just me, but the Gorillaz were that funny little band that was perfect for a little teen angst, a little growing up, and then a little reminiscing.

And apart from those three albums, though, that’s about it. D-Sides, The Fall, and various remixes and remasters keep us happy between albums, but for a while it has felt like dead air from the band. Maybe that’s why I got to thinking about the Gorillaz again. It feels like, more than ever, it’s just about time for some new music. And it looks like next year we may get it.