Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This Is A High

[Editor's Note: Actually, two of them. 1) This article is cross-posted to my new, non music-related blog, which you can read here. As usual, commenting is encouraged. 2) I'm not sure how I feel about posting this--the MO of Rockaliser, as far as I can tell, isn't normally to act as PR for any band, no matter how much we may like the musicians in question. So, forgive me for trying to stir up hype in a not-very-critical fashion. Plus, I mostly do this because I'm interested in what my colleague Aaron M. thinks about Gorillaz, Albarn in general, etc.]

I've reached across virtually every Web 2.0 platform to relay the news: the new Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach, comes out on March 9. I had been hoping for another Gorillaz release in 2010, given Damon Albarn's relative lack of output in the last year or so. I first learned about the album a few weeks ago, when Albarn talked in an audio interview about getting together a list of guest stars that outdoes even Demon Days in terms of sheer, ridiculous diversity. They include: Barry Gibb, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (!), Bobby Womack, Mark E. Smith (in the Shaun Ryder part, I imagine), Snoop Dogg, and the Syrian National Orchestra.

I'm pretty sure that I'm the biggest Damon Albarn fan I know--his handsomeness and boisterous personality have resulted in a lot of bad press on this side of the Atlantic, but I could make a good case for Albarn as the forerunner for a lot of what we might call world music-oriented popular music, from M.I.A. to Vampire Weekend. He managed to prove all the haters wrong by making one great Blur record in 2003 without Graham Coxon, and that is in addition to forays with Gorillaz, the Good, the Bad, and the Queen, his solo album Mali Music, the Chinese opera Monkey: Journey to the West, and this mind-blowing song by Amadou & Mariam. Plus, he reunited with Coxon and Blur for a farewell tour that didn't result in any new music but did provide footage for an upcoming film that promises to rank up with the Beatles Anthology in terms of manipulative weepiness (protip: 13 outdoes even Sea Change in that department).

In short, Albarn has emerged as the only guy to come out of the Britpop scene who seems to have an enduring and evolving interest in different types of music (please compare with Oasis). Except maybe Jarvis, but was he ever as willing to cede the spotlight to such a sterling group of fellow musicians? Check out the new Gorillaz track "Stylo" here, and imagine a world where popular radio showcases Albarn, Mos Def and Bobby Womack trading vocals.

An additional note: What is this album going to do for Gorillaz, narrative-wise? The cover for the "Stylo" single features Murdoc and Noodle, the latter seemingly having finally reached puberty, but from what I recall, Noodle was killed after her floating island windmill was shot out of the sky by mysterious helicopters in the (epic and sad) video for "El Manana." Is it possible that Plastic Beach will lack the mixed-media unity of its predecessors?


  1. Yeah, there's a vague MO here. If it were ever written, it'd include something about not cheerleading or falling prey to the hype cycle.

    You're clearly the Albarn expert, esp. when it comes to Blur, a band I need to spend much more time with.

    That said, I love Gorillaz, and am psyched for the new record. I heard some leaked demos this summer that sounded pretty cool, not sure if those will be on the album in any form.

    I've always found Albarn slightly impenetrable, however, and I think that's in large part b/c there's not any clear precedent for him. Sometimes he seems Bryne or Gabrielish with his love for world and especially African music. But he used to be a kind of 90's Ray Davies. And TGTB&TQ seemed like an alternate universe Gorillaz, in a good way. He's other things as well, and so much cognitive dissonance results in trying to reconcile them that I don't really try.

    But for most mortals, having produced the sublime "Sabali"--easily the best song on a consistently incredible album--would be a brilliant life's work.

  2. Albarn was always quite a guy, though it's also not surprising that the British music press would continue to elevate Definitely Maybe over Parklife, as it seems a greater index of everything that has been lost since the heady 90s.