aving followed the unprecedented career path of wacky side project to clever cartoon, to trans-Atlantic phenomenon cartoon side project, Gorillaz now face actual expectations for success, both artistically and commercially—truly an astounding feat given their initial intentions.
As the many, many people who purchased the self-titled debut know (six million plus, to be exact), musically, Gorillaz were your typical side project: their songs were startling successes or poorly executed duds, oftentimes in the span of the same track. It’s primary artistic triumph, though, was that it satisfied both long-time Blur fans eager to consume Damon Albarn’s latest efforts, as well as casual listeners merely searching for a few great singles.
Clearly, Albarn and Co. were fully aware that Demon Days would not be given many of the same free passes that its predecessor was, and the result is a much more consistent and coherent album, equaling Gorillaz’s high points and easily besting its shortcomings.
The most notable and highly publicized change is the swap of lead producers—Dan the Automator for Danger Mouse, who caught Albarn’s ear (among others) after releasing his paean to piracy, The Grey Album. DM seems to view Gorillaz as an outlet for his wildest ideas experiments as much as Albarn ever did, as many of the songs swiftly shift speeds and styles. But the varying sounds are pieced together in such a fashion that nothing sounds too far out of place.
The first six songs in particular exemplify this philosophy. Each song begins sparsely—usually with a single bassline—gradually building to cacophonies of strings, synths and subtle elements of almost every genre one can think of. And as each track slowly builds toward its own climax, each subsequent song becomes increasingly up-tempo, peaking with “Feel Good Inc.,” the fantastic lead single.
At times on Blur’s latest album, Think Tank, Albarn allowed his voice to become buried under layers of production, and the same trick is performed for many of the vocalists on Demon Days. On songs like “El Manana,” the effect is intentional, but on songs like “Dirty Harry,” the production is so dense that their work (here it’s Booty Brown of the Pharcyde) almost becomes lost.
Still, Demon Days is packed with standout moments. MF Doom lives up to his high standards on “November Has Come.” “White Light” skillfully meshes punk rock bass and guitars with hip-hop drums, in addition to a brief interlude of ambience in the middle that takes you from the middle of a mosh pit to 35,000 feet above the Earth, and then back again. “Dare” is a ready-made club hit, a slowed down cousin of Basement Jaxx’s “Right Here’s the Spot.”
Like the debut, there are weak spots here and there, but as mentioned earlier, the lowlights are much briefer than before, and are spaced farther apart. Demon Days would be hard pressed to match the mainstream appeal of Gorillaz, but it’s a significantly better album. From here on, Albarn’s going to have to come up with another name if he wants to compile all of his most far-reaching ideas into one release, because we now know to expect some of his finest work from Gorillaz.
Reviewed by: Ross McGowan
Reviewed on: 2005-06-02