Gorillaz – Gorillaz

4 out of 5

Produced by: Dan the Automator

Label: Parlophone

And a good time was had by all.  That’s all the Gorillaz’s debut really makes me think or feel – it’s perfectly pleasant; it floats on by.  So can this be a short review for once?

Sigh; I must, at least, acknowledge some basics.  When rumblings of a hip hop project starring Damon Albarn were kicking around, I was in the midst of Blur fandom and colored myself mad hyped.  When a promo of said project arrived at the Sam Goody at which I then worked, I tried to gank some airtime in-store, but Radiohead’s Kid A came out that day, so there wasn’t much room for my shitty backpack pseudo-rap.  Of course, flash forward a few weeks and Gorillaz was selling like hotcakes, but we digress.

The snippets I could hear of my first playthrough of Gorillaz didn’t create much of an impression, but I could brush that off to the bustle of the store environment.  I may have secretly sneaked home the promo that night… and subsequent playthroughs… still didn’t do much.

I don’t know what I was expecting.  There are certainly Blur moments on the disc, but this was also our first exposure (besides some soundtrack work) to Damon not being front and center, a trend that would continue over the duration of Gorillaz’s output.  He’s often just riding a pleasant Dan the Automator beat, ooh-oohing or repeating a silly phrase; while I’ve elsewhere made the case that part of Albarn’s style is a level of remove from the music, this just seemed…. Well, pointless.  I was frustrated by it.

Later, hearing Clint Eastwood in a single context, I got the frenzy: It’s a damned catchy song, with slinky production and an effortless sense of compositional balance: nothing too showy.  A good freaking time.  And then the whole Gorillaz puzzle started to slot into place: represented, surreally, as this cartoon band set the experience in am entirely different realm.  This was Albarn’s skillset released from the spotlight of the Britpop eye, and thus alleviated, he could gather some like-minded folks and – yeah – have a good time.

The experiment proved fruitful and Damon could step even further into the shadows of his guest stars, pulling the strings in terms of tone, pacing and style to deliver several more catchy variations on this theme.  On Gorillaz he’s still the primary representative, and the relatively loosey-goosey flow of the album – bumping into punky thrash, Blur-y electro, dubb-y hip-hop – makes it an easy, toe-tapping background listen.  But repeated listens peel the onion: it’s quite impressively layered and complex to achieve exavtly that laid back, good time feel.