Album Review: Gorillaz – ‘The Now Now’
When Damon Albarn announced that Gorillaz would be following up last year’s Humanz with a record this year, many fans were somewhat taken aback.
Humanz signalled the return of the virtual band for the first time since 2010’s The Fall. It was a record that many critics (including us) praised it for it’s dark, yet playful party sound and it’s wide range of genres covered.
But, longtime fans viewed it in a more mixed light, seeing it as a record that was high on guest collaborators and low on consistency.
If those were the complaints you had from Humanz, then on its surface The Now Now is a big improvement.
This follow-up puts the virtual band back in the spotlight, with only a handful of collaborators making it onto the record. 2-D’s vocals are also very much-front and centre, serving as the driving focal point of the record.
The Now Now also, unlike its predecessor, doesn’t jump all over the place stylistically, but instead brings a consistent synth-heavy West Coast vibe to its eleven tracks.
‘Humility’ is an ideal taster, with George Benson’s guitar adding a really nice touch to the proceedings. Yet, despite the seemingly joyous affair instrumentally, the lyrics tell a different story. 2-D sings about how he is isolated, and that desperately needs to ‘respect myself and get back on track.’
Really, that is what this record is. It’s an album for those who are feeling sad on the happiest day. This is, at its core, a mood album, and an album like that isn’t going to appeal to everyone.
‘Hollywood’ (featuring Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle) is another notable highlight, with wubbing synthesisers and basslines giving the track a nocturnal feel. Principle sings about how seductive tinsel town is, and Snoop Dog’s verse is particularly charged with a feeling of excess. Yet, 2-D’s forlorn vocals in the chorus sing about how Hollywood is ‘alright’, and that these thoughts make him ‘kill the vibe.’
‘Lake Zurich’ is the most danceable track on the album, with a fantastic beat, some unsettling choir chants and distorted police alarms appearing in it’s climax. This contrasts with the chill cuts of ‘Idaho’ and ‘Fireflies,’ which serve as two of the best highlights on the record, both in a production and lyrical capacity.
But there is one glaring problem with The Now Now, and that is the uniformity of the record. Considering we are so used to Gorillaz albums jumping all over the place in a cooky, creative fashion, to have a record where all tracks sound the same can be somewhat jarring. Humanz, for all it’s pros and cons, sounded creatively like it was reaching for the stars. This record, by comparison, feels like a much smaller and more grounded affair.
In shooting for one uniform sound, Albarn’s choice to go with a West Coast vibe can sometimes be simply overbearing. There are many moments, such as ‘Tranz’ and ‘Sorcererz,’ where 2-D’s lyrics are effectively washed away by the production.
But, while this record does feel smaller, there are moments where this approach works heavily in its favour. Additionally, when Albarn changes things up and adds organic instrumentation to this synth-heavy landscape, it makes for some of the best moments on the record.
‘Humility’ is one such example, with the addition of Benson’s guitar. But the crowning example goes to the closer, ‘Souk Eye’, which is probably the best song Gorillaz have done since Plastic Beach.
2-D’s vocals are incredibly romantic, as he sings about pining for someone. But, there is Stockholm Syndrome vibe to the situation he describes, as beautifully plucked guitar combine with whispy synths and distorted, fuzzed production. Once a huge instrumental build in it’s climax comes in the form of glockenspiel, pianos and strings, the track turns stunning.
Overall, there’s a lot to enjoy here, but this isn’t your typical Gorillaz record, nor a record you can simply enjoy whenever suits. This is very much a mood record.
While it is great to see the virtual band back front and centre, this record feels like a smaller experience: something that both compliments it, and hinders it.