Review: Gorillaz evolves in the new world of music
Song Machine, Season One diversifies Gorillaz's collaborators and style
November 6, 2020
I’ve been a fan of Gorillaz from a young age. From listening to Demon Dayz with my dad in the car as a little kid and streaming Plastic Beach nonstop in middle school, saying I’m obsessed with Gorillaz would be an understatement. One of the best qualities of Gorillaz is the rapidly changing styles of music. There never is one true genre in Gorillaz music, which makes it more exciting.
Earlier this year, Gorillaz released a music-based web series, Song Machine, on their YouTube channel and in September, announced the release of the web series’ first album on Oct. 23. The entire album is collaborative, each track featuring at least one other artist in the most diverse selection of musicians I’ve ever seen on a project.
Among the songs that have been released prior to the album, “Aries” was my favorite by far. It’s the type of song you listen to on a long car ride and just chill to. The song starts with a heavy-synth instrumental and then focuses more on Lead Singer Damon Albarn’s voice with Peter Hook, the featured artist on the track. It’s a modern-pop spin on the edginess from the earliest Gorillaz albums almost like a Demon Dayz and Plastic Beach lovechild.
The past Gorillaz albums so far each took on their own genre of music. Plastic Beach saw pop and alternative rock. Humanz leaned toward contemporary R&B, trip-hop and art rock. Their self-titled album, Gorillaz, had more Britpop and rock, which was commonly popular at the time of its release. Demon Dayz played around with alternative hip hop and Lo-fi. The Now Now strayed away from alternative rock and focused on modern pop and electronica. The diversity of the collaborators on this album makes for such a wider range in style that I can only manage to narrow it down to alternative or indie.
Take “With Love To An Ex (feat. Moonchild Sanelly)” for example. Sanelly is a South African musician known for her self-created genre of music known as “future ghetto punk.” Sanelly’s take on electric music and hip hop complement the new upbeat and peppy style of Gorillaz. Her voice is autotuned to sound robotic, a key feature in the electric background instrumentals.
This nature in Sanelly’s captivating voice plays into Gorillaz’s habit of criticizing the music and entertainment industry and its effects on musicians in stripping them away of any unique personality and the cookie-cutter system of making someone famous. “With Love to An Ex” focuses on Sanelly’s path to success and the interference of her exes wanting a piece of her fame and fortune, highlighting the unnecessary drama artists deal with.
As much as I’m digging Gorillaz’s take on modern pop, I miss the old-alt music from Demon Dayz and their self-titled album. It may have something to do with my short attention span, but I have an issue with songs that exceed four minutes. When songs are stretched out that long, the lyrics and rhythm become a little too repetitive for me that I end up skipping the track by the two-minute mark.
Song Machine, Season One would’ve easily become one of my favorite Gorillaz albums if it weren’t for “Opium (feat. EARTHGANG)”. The funky beat in the beginning was cool for a solid 30 seconds but as soon as Albarn started singing to it I turned down the volume a little.
I am all for diversifying the style, but sometimes you have to draw the line somewhere. British alternative did not mix well with the afrobeat and jazz fusion EARTHGANG brought to the party. This went on for nearly seven minutes, which is far too long for any song, besides how badly the styles fused in this track. It’ll be an immediate skip on my Spotify.
Aside from my obsession with Gorillaz, I’d say I’m a fan of Elton John. I was beyond excited when I saw that they’d be collaborating on a track together.
“The Pink Phantom (feat. Elton John and 6LACK)” exceeded my expectations and is a beautiful mashup of alternative pop and classic rock. The melancholiness of the song balanced the upbeatness in the album.
The synth mixed with the piano is exactly what you’d expect from a combination of Albarn and John’s individual strengths as musicians. And it’s amazing! The lyrics dig deep into the loneliness and emotional weight of heartbreak.
One of the key aspects of a successful musician in my opinion is their ability to manipulate the music to fit the tone they try to emote. In some ways, you can interpret this song as someone being content in their lonely devastation. The piano moves the album away from its peppiness to really focus in on something as heart-wrenching as a breakup. This track is by far among my top ten favorite Gorillaz songs.
The idea of Song Machine was genius and allows Gorillaz to continue producing more collaborative music and fun projects that expose their fans to a wide range of artists. I’m definitely looking forward to a Song Machine, Season Two after enjoying this album. I owe it to Gorillaz for my interest in R&B and alternative rock and I genuinely believe that the continuation of this series will break the confined barriers of music genres, allowing growth in their fanbase from all parts of the music world.
Listen to it here: