Falling with Gorillaz

I downloaded the new Gorillaz’s album the other day, so I thought I’d click my fingers and whack up a mini-review. Of course, I don’t claim to know anything about music, but when does that stop most music reviewers 🙂 ?

So what to make of The Fall?

Released with little fanfare and none of the marketing blitz usually associated even with the more niche bands like our little cartoon collective, the album sneaked out first as a Christmas Easter Egg (yes that really does make sense, check out the point 3 in link if you’re still scratching your head) before getting a physical and full download release last month.

More or less composed on an iPad on the road whilst touring in the States, the Fall is half an experimental attempt at personal music making, half road trip audio diary as America flashes by the window. There may be the occasional glimpse of real world instrumentation or a guest singer to leaven the mix, but all in all its pretty faithful to a looser DIY ethic.

The results are a big departure from the Gorillaz’s ‘usual’ sound, not that they are content to stay within one particular pigeon hole at the best of times, but it does contrast radically with the overproduced, guest laden Plastic Beach, or their more hip-hop inflected debut.

Now I wasn’t much of a PB fan, despite the serviceable Stylo and the strangely sickly sweet / brilliant / addictive Melancholy Hill. This is much more a solo Albarn record, a hybrid of Gorrillaz electronica and something more akin to his The Good, The Bad & Queen side project.

As you can tell from the above, I’m a bit of an Albarn fanboy. I’ve got most of his various collaborations and enjoyed most, so I’m probably predisposed to like this. It’s not an unquestioning appreciation though and the way the band have treated the material sends dangerous hints of fan filler content for completists or the curious only, rather than something more substantive.

Yet once you get get past the initial (and probably very hackneyed) reaction of “its amazing what you can do on a tablet these days”, these restraints create a much more a limited piece of work. It feels rough and ready in places, but don’t think that’s a criticism as its not aiming for polished and sometimes even self-imposed restrictions can help create something different, something interesting. I’m glad to report that this is the case here.

Each track is a little sketch in the unfolding travelogue, conjuring the shifting imagery and emotions – amazement, tiredness, fascination, dislocation, enjoyment – of the journey in turn.

Bobby in Phoenix, a somewhat atypical slice featuring Bobby Womack is garnering the most praise (“an astonishing guest appearance from Bobby Womack… lovely conjunction of bluesy acoustic guitar, electronic tones, scampering samples of Oriental strings and Womack’s weathered voice“), but I prefer the simple charms of Revolving Doors or California and the Slipping of the Sun.

It’s a minor, understated masterpiece in my opinion, which works as an interesting soundscape rather a standalone series of tracks and certainly won’t be for everyone. There are no big, anthemic singles to fire the imagination, it needs to hang together as a cohesive whole to reach its fullest potential.

Have a listen here and take a look at the production notes while you are there. C’mon, anything featuring the “Archie McPhee Yodelling Pickle” has got to be worth at least a look, hasn’t it?

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~ by Jack on May 8, 2011.

One Response to “Falling with Gorillaz”

  1. I REALLY like The Fall. I don’t have the experience with their music of a truly dedicated fan, but I think that has allowed me to approach this with fresh ears. I also learned of the iPad thing only after listening to the music. I love the “program” style narrative of it as a musical travelogue, and think the music was probably not so much influenced by what is happening now in hip-hop, but older pioneers in electronic music such as Edgard Varèse, Otto Luening, and John Cage. If you come at it from this angle, it is a much more interesting work. I enjoyed your review, it’s much more insightful and open than most of what has been written on this music!

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