Playing God
Gorillaz: Gorillaz

let’s be totally straightforward for a moment: the almost awkwardly large difference in scope, tone, mood, and structure of Gorillaz and Demon Days is positively mind-itching. With the exception of the fiercely proportionate “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.,” the latter album cuts back on the off-tune and pounding yet harmonious guitars, and all-around incomparable quirk personified so arduously by the debut to ultimately form into something of a categorically-sprawling dance album of sorts (bed-ridden, near-obese Shaun Ryder chimes in for but an instant!). Damon Albarn somehow managed to raise the pitch of his previously somewhat-recognizable voice to near feminine sonorousness (“Dare”) and introduced celebrity sing-speak to the dismay of the continuously growing Gorillaz fan-base by way of the contiguously recognizable Dennis Hopper (“Fire Coming Out of a Monkey’s Head”). Wholly variable, and, without question, not the Gorillaz that appeared on scene in 2000 when the top-grossing and most talked-about acts usually had the word “Boys” embedded within their moniker.

Looking back on the early exhibitions of Gorillaz, it is now clear to me that their album organization skills were not on par with their musical talent. Gorillaz, as the album currently stands, is best taken in small doses. The b-sides collection G-Sides was released roughly eight months after the debut, and, to common critical bashings, was disregarding as something of a non-LP failure. Truthfully, the compilation disc as a whole is pretty weak, offering up tracks that fail considerably whilst standing on their own, but have unique individual virtues. Now, with the best tracks ripped off G-Sides and inserted into the slimmer, sexier, far-better-than Demon Days self-titled album, we have something that shines through the indented darkness, and surely could have been something of an unconventional milestone.

01. 5/4 (album track 2) (2:40)
You won’t find guitars or the FYC-patented “smacking shoes” smothering this track anywhere remotely aside Demon Days. This song immaculately grapples you inward, with that anti-luscious opening acoustic riff later accompanied by bass-drum and electric accentuation. Originally the second track, I find it to be a increasingly suitable introductory setting for the album; it’s one of the few instances in which Albarn’s voice meanders back to Blur-like hoarse (“She turned my dad on!”). Plus, the riff is fun to play at social gatherings for easily-amazed people, and that’s what the most virtuous opening tracks should all be aiming for: amazement.

02. Faust (from G-Sides) (3:51)
This song proves wholesale that Miho Hatori should hold just as much limelight as Damon Albarn when it comes to developing slow, melancholy tunes designed to transport. Of all the songs on G-Sides, it’s the one that stands out most as a genuine b-side; it’s so unlike anything on the album that it’s a wonder it wasn’t thrown in there for good measure. Hatori is able to harbor this distinct and eerie ability to make you believe that she isn’t real, and what you’re hearing is simply an overgrown amalgam of electronic sounds spliced together to make beautiful, sometimes saddening voices. She even gets to sing in Japanese in this sweet, comfortable and attenuated ballad to Doc Faustus (“After a hard day / It’s time to wake up”). Slotting it after “5/4” gives it justification, and allows a deep inhalation before the first single kicks in.

03. Clint Eastwood (album track 5) (5:40)
Gorillaz sold albums based solely on this song, and for decent reasoning: it sounded like nothing else and induced chronic head-bobbing and unintentional lyric memorization. Coincidentally, children were drawn to this song. I once witnessed a very tall and overweight black kid with a skinny little white girl on his shoulders walking down 4th and Mission in San Francisco singing “I got sunshine in a bag.” Proof positive, right on the streets. 2000 was a year when anything went; record labels were signing the majority of bands with a stationary pulse. This was one of the singles of the year; a song so catchy within its own departure that it ceased to matter if the Gorillaz were an animated band or not.

04. Re-Hash (album track 1) (3:38)
They honestly shouldn’t have opened the original LP with this, as it’s what I like to call a “continuous groove” track; it keeps the current rushing towards the eventual middle-point curve-ball/switch-up (which I’ll get to later) by introducing a more upbeat tone than the ground swell of other pristine album tracks. A sitar and synthesizer balance the unconscious and drifting lyrics (“’Cause it’s the money as dub”). Something about the track reminds me of Demon Days’ “El Mañana,” I guess it’s the cloudy nature of Albarn’s voice, which leans towards omnipresence and a happy scorn towards things hypothetical. Also, this track impeccably segues into…

05. Sound Check (Gravity) (album track 8) (4:40)
I think this is probably the most misunderstood Gorillaz song ever, as its tiny piano hooks that lead into heavy, blurry scratching backed up a drum machine loops tend to offset Albarn’s detached “Aw, don’t pull me down” in a way that makes the tune seem a musical conundrum; Albarn’s own voice even wraps around itself at times. All this is what makes the song work so well in the context of the record, as well as by itself. FUCKING GRAVITY IS PULLING HIM DOWN. Thus, the song feels like it never goes anywhere as a result of its consuming meandering. But, how in the world can you not go anywhere when violins carry the beat out into undisclosed oblivion? The ending sells it: “Yo who the fuck / But then again”. It’s one, big, droll circle that serves the album more than well.

06. Tomorrow Comes Today (album track 3) (3:12)
A masterstroke could have been attained had Albarn paired “Sound Check” and this track together, back-to-back. They complement each other like milk and cookies: one baroque and heavy, the other slick and chocked-full of nutrients to wash down any vapor of repugnance left by the prior intake. Every time this song is playing, somewhere out there, Danger Mouse bumps into something, or stubs his toe on a chair leg. The Automator smiles: his production here trumps anything the Mouse has ever done. Hearing this production’s stature, I tend to let Handsome Boy Modeling School’s White People slide on by like it never happened.

07. Rock the House (album track 10) (4:08)
Nakamura (who also produced the brilliant Deltron 3030, which contains material somewhat akin to this track) cornered “Harvard graduate” Del tha Funkee Homosapien and encouraged him to take center stage on a piece with his profound “intelligent-futuristic rap style”; since Del is well-known to bask in the sunshine of superiority when he can, he held no argument to Nakamura’s proposal. In doing so, he helped fashion the album’s crutch-track: so subtly profane and hidden by trumpet loops that the fact that it undoubtedly masked the rest of the band failed to matter. This is also the best Gorillaz music video to date (two words: Murdoch’s “package”).

08. Man Research (Clapper) (album track 6) (4:32)
Tempted to exclude this, I shuffled it around and then removed it from the mix for a few listens. I found out that between this and the obtuse, oblique “Punk,” “Man Research” holds more substance and is actually considerably hooky to the point of involuntary hip movements. The title is equally amusing, as are the lyrics: “This is the breakfast club / Bring me coffee in the know / See the tafu on the send.”

09. Ghost Train (from G-Sides) (3:56)
This could have easily been just as well-received as “Clint Eastwood,” had it been on the original LP. It initially doesn’t come off as a b-side at all; its organization is top-notch with an oddball echoing synthline, solid-hits on tightly wound bass strings, and repetitive reciting of “ghost train” while slight percussion begins to set in. Though it contains no hard-hitting, vibrant rap segments, its vocalization and instrument control makes it as good as the leading single it so verbosely rivals. Later on, Albarn goes crazy and recalls “Song 2” tactics to the T. Not an exclusively excellent track, but one that could have acquired the Gorillaz more of a following early on in their existence. Also, does the listener the commendable favor of leading dexterously into…

10. Latin Simone (Que Pasa Contigo) (English Version) (from G-Sides) (3:38)
I don’t know anyone who didn’t loathe the original version. The desired affect was a centerpiece of strangeness and pointless breaching of sanity; it failed, and created a burden when listening to the album. Who in their correct mindset would want to hark to some awkward Hispanic guy moan? That’s right, no one. But, who wants to hear Damon Albarn moan? A couple handfuls the greater, to be certain. This could have been a great track on the original; its stark overtones have the ability to sustain a distinguishing feature of the band that may be lost on some of the unarguably lifeless tunes (“Starshine”).

11. M1A1 (album track 14) (3:49)
Not everyone can get away with 1:42 of action-less Day of the Dead soundbite, but the Gorillaz proved they could with the most legit rock track on the album (and their entire catalog). This is the middle-point curve-ball/switch-up I was referring to earlier. Unexpected bursts of robust guitars, drums, and various electronically-occasioned devices explode from the tensioned silence of Romero’s underrated zombie picture to truly epitomize the overall farsightedness of the content validated upon this record. Confidence and well-concocted inclination overwhelm this track; it isn’t exigent what M1A1 even means, which is a sign the song did its job in shaping a brooding criterion. Shame that they’ve yet to create a correlative piece to it.

12. Double Bass (album track 9) (4:44)
A number of my companions and half-hearted gut impulses urged me to remove this from my cut based on my central mission to keep the album lean and ever-simmering, but I grew to love this near-100% instrumental dub-a-thon so much that it simply had to remain. The bassline is slithery and euphoric, without being too autocratic for its own merit; something that gives the album’s amplitude an imperceptibly rotund resonance. It also hearkens as a requisite cooling-down moment after the pounding “M1A1,” and lays the foundation for the analogously low-key closing installments.

13. Slow Country (album track 14) (3:35)
Kindred with “Sound Check (Gravity)”, this is one of the Gorillaz most unnecessarily belittled arrangements. I’ll admit, the first occasion when my ears soaked up its weighty, almost overly echoed reverberations, I was taken aback. Further listens proved this to be one of the album’s masterpieces; Albarn’s vocal plight is inscrutable, yet draws lines from point A to point B with an extemporized compassion that fastens listeners in through a statuesque, if bumpy ride. It should have been a single; the video would have been marvelous.

14. Hip Albatross (from G-Sides) (2:45)
This is what songs like “White Light,” “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven,” and the title track from Demon Days wished they could be. Tenebrous and dangerously mellifluous, the song interlaces some culminating lines from Dawn of the Dead (“Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them; it gets up and kills. The people it kills get up and kill!”) with Albarn’s “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah” wailings to contour possibly the most in-tune anti-detainment song within the five-year career of the Gorillaz (and maybe even Albarn himself). It’s a brilliant song, and a shame it was not to be found in the original album; as it could have evolved into some kind of down-tempo zombie film anthem.

15. 12D3 (from G-Sides) (3:24)
Now if this isn’t the perfect way to clinch a very atypical, very mood-exploring debut album, I would think the entire thing categorically unbounded:
I’m 2D…
Won’t you buy me…?
Piano chord…
All set to the synched tone of a lovely, rustic acoustic hook and the soft, delicate mummer of a rattling grand piano. With this track to put things to bed (and, it literally does), we now have the masterpiece Albarn could have uncovered with some simple cutting and pasting.

By: Mike LeChevallier
Published on: 2005-12-20
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