Those Gorillaz are up to something.
Since Damon Albarn confirmed the return of the project earlier this year, fans have been left in a state of wide-eyed anticipation, waiting, fervently, for the first sign of something new. While there’s still no music to show for the world’s collective patience, things are beginning to happen. A few days ago, Gorillaz launched their official Instagram account, bringing with it a number of recognisably feral images from throughout the band’s iconic history. You’d be foolish to think this an exercise in nostalgia, though. Where Albarn and co. are involved, you better believe it: everything is happening for a reason.
Take the relaunch of their website, too. The shiny, new revamp is an indicator in itself, but hold your darn horses, because *that’s not all, people*. During what I can only imagine was a routine snoop, a [lonely] probing Reddit user discovered a so-far unused ‘Tour Dates’ section in the site’s coding. I repeat: Gorillaz are up to something. We’re right to be excited.
They’ve never been one for labels, but if you were looking for a term for which to tie them down, ‘cartoon band’ wouldn’t be the worst thing you could have come up with, though even that feels reductive in sufficiently encompassing all that they do. Because that’s what they are, y’see: all-encompassing. Music, video, art, poetry, history and counter-culture fall under their fictional umbrella, and they explore a number of different sonic makeups through which to project them. Hip-hop, reggae, Britpop, alternative rock, electronica, punk, gospel, spoken word – I could continue, but I won’t. There are only so many lists you can get away with. Multiple lists are long and boring. These are two things that Gorillaz most certainly are not.
They are promised to no-one, and shackled by nothing – there’s rarely a stone left unturned. In the same sense that Gorillaz are more than just a band, a Gorillaz album is far, far more than just a new piece of music. It’s an event.
Demon Days, their second full-length record, came out in 2005. I was 11 years old. I imagine you’ve probably been 11 before, and know that it’s probably the transitional time in one’s childhood. Things get weird. Like, really weird. You can’t work out whether you’re Boy King, or World Victim Number 1. Usually, somehow, you’re a bit of both. It’s a period of personal definition; an eye-opening one, if you will.
I’m 21 now, but I still remember the first time that I heard the album’s lead single, Feel Good Inc. It was distorted, eerie and strange, but also sexy. At 11 years old, I wasn’t really sure what sexy was yet. I’m not even sure that I know what it is now. But, right then, I did know that sexy was something along the lines of Feel Good Inc’s bassline. It was the only logical explanation. This was definitely sexy. There was rap, too! By De La Soul! But it wasn’t a rap song. Was it? I don’t know. They had a funny laugh, though. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!11 year-old me was baffled, but 11 year-old me was hooked. I didn’t get it, but I knew that I wanted to. So, when Demon Days came out, I went out (with my mum) and got it. It was the first album I ever owned. I bought it from Asda.
While it represented the obvious milestone (I’m still proud of my debut purchase), Demon Days was an incredibly important record for a number of reasons – mostly, because it taught me to forget about preconceptions. This wasn’t something that resonated until a little later on, but Demon Days pretty much throws the whole notions of albums adhering to single categories right out of the window. For instance: Dirty Harry was a melodic piece of electronica featuring the youth children’s choir of San Fernandez, All Alone was a Roots Manuva-fronted post-dub banger, Kids With Guns a strange, haunting ska track, while Dare was brilliant and absolutely fucking bonkers simultaneously. Don’t get me started on Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head, either. That genuinely used to frighten me.
Each of the record’s fourteen tracks were radically different, yet never seemed out of place. They were telling real stories, too (see Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head – fuck, that used to scare me). Demon Days, I firmly believe, was my first introduction to Big Boy Music™. It taught me about influence, songwriting, amalgamation. I maintain that it’s one of the finest musical releases of 21st century – although, admittedly, I’m a little biased.
Essentially, what I’m making an extremely long-winded effort of saying is that whatever new music Gorillaz we have coming our way, will be of a similar importance to millions of others. They might be 11, they might be older, but Demon Days was my transitional album, and their impending effort will be the same for those still yet to experience that with music. Gorillaz were sold to me as something cool, different and digestible, but turned out to be a gateway into full-blown, omni-spanning musical consciousness. For me, Gorillaz are well and truly generational. For others, they soon will be. Their next record is going to be wonderful.
Words by Niall Flynn