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Gorillaz

+ {Monkey}

The brainchild of BLUR’s Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett (creator of cult comic heroine Tank Girl, herself the inspiration for Lara Croft and a forerunner of the “girl-power” shenanigans), this cutting edge project also initially benefitted from the talents of CIBO MATTO’s Miho Matori, hip hop beats merchant Dan The Automator (aka Daniel Nakamura), reggae bassist Dan Junior and white funk (TALKING HEADS/TOM TOM CLUB) veteran Tina Weymouth. As for the “virtual band members”, they were cute but dim lead singer 2D (not based on Damon as everyone thought), sinister, scowling guitarist Murdoc Niccals, b-boy Russel Hobbs and the mysterious, oriental Noodle.
GORILLAZ’ debut EP, `Tomorrow Comes Today’ arrived in late 2000, while the seminal `Clint Eastwood’ single was released the following year. A lurching slice of feel good dub-hop which made the UK Top 5 and even the Italian Top 10, the track was a definite contender for single of the year. More importantly for a virtual band, the brilliantly inventive video brought the characters to life in a way that the eponymous GORILLAZ (2001) {*8} album did not. Still, there were plenty of sterling pop thrills to be had amidst the occasionally unfocused dub-scapes while ironically, perhaps, Albarn’s cockney leer sounded better in this environment than in the confines of BLUR. While the live shows may not quite have lived up to the hype, hits to the band’s web site dominate the E.M.I. server’s traffic. Meanwhile, LAIKA COME HOME (2002) {*7} was down to the electro dub-friendly billing of Spacemonkeyz versus Gorillaz.
Amid the apocalyptic, geopolitical jungle of the mid-noughties, GORILLAZ (Albarn, Hewlett and their holographic mates) approximated the aural equivalent of life lived in a technological cage with comeback album, DEMON DAYS (2005) {*9}. Even daisy-agers DE LA SOUL were feeling the paranoia, back on the cutting edge with collaborative lead hit, `Feel Good Inc’. Also referencing prime 80s electro was `Dare’, SHAUN RYDER’s degenerate slur (and head!) gracing a UK No.1 for the first time in his chequered career. The Clint Eastwood cred continued with third hit, `Dirty Harry’, aka Another Brick In The Wall, part 2005, as consumed by the post-E generation; NENEH CHERRY was guest singer on a further hit, `Kids With Guns’. Albarn’s ear for the next big thing was further underlined with his choice of producer, Danger Mouse, currently laying waste to the charts under the guise of GNARLS BARKLEY.
Designed as a soundtrack to Chen Shi-Zheng’s stage production (on the back of ALBARN’s other moonlighting side-project, The GOOD, THE BAD & THE QUEEN), MONKEY’s JOURNEY TO THE WEST (2008) {*6} was an experimental concept by the duo and GORILLAZ cohort, Jamie Hewlett. At times dreamy and dramatic, at times tense and textural, the plethora of short, sharp shocks and orchestral oeuvres in the dark were very cinematic and symphonic. It was a pity then that ALBARN and Co decided to consign his animated primates to digital memory as BLUR were back in action as from 2009.
But then the world of virtually “anything can happen” reality, Russel and Noodle reunited with Murdoc and 2D, kicking off another fantasy chapter for the power of Hewlett’s graphics. PLASTIC BEACH (2010) {*7} hit No.2 on both sides of the Big Pond. Featuring a stellar and cosmopolitan cast of collaborators: The FALL’s Mark E Smith on `Glitter Freeze’, LOU REED on `Some Kind Of Nature’, SNOOP DOGG on `Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach’, LITTLE DRAGON on `Empire Ants’ and `To Binge’, MOS DEF & BOBBY WOMACK on `Stylo’ (and others), GRUFF RHYS & DE LA SOUL on `Superfast Jellyfish’ and a CLASH reunion of Mick Jones & Paul Simonon on the title track, the set could certainly compete with the outfit’s previous efforts.
Tested out on the digital download buyer at first, 2011’s quick-fire THE FALL {*6} was pieced together by Damon on his iPad and aimed at their loyal fanclub brigade while GORILLAZ took the show on the road. `Phoner To Arizona’, `Revolving Doors’ and `Detroit’ could well have fitted into most of ALBARN’s post-BLUR excursions, of course with a differing beat and setting; WOMACK’s guest spot on `Bobby In Phoenix’ was of particular interest.
© MC Strong 2002-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS May2012

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