After a seven-year long drought between new album, Gorillaz, the animated brainchild of Blur frontman Damon Albarn returned with a bang in 2017, dropping the superstar-packed new album Humanz. It’d probably be too far to call that project an exercise in style over substance, but the sheer number of guest artists that the band pulled into appear on that album — a literal who’s-who that included Noel Gallagher, Grace Jones, Vince Staples, DRAM, Danny Brown, Kelela, Mavis Staples, and Pusha-T to name a few — the Drake-sized 20 song tracklist, as well as the whole “comeback” narrative obscured much of the material that Gorillaz put out into the public space.
Fortunately, the group’s latest album The Now Now, manages to avoid many of these pitfalls and stands quite confidently as perhaps the most cohesive collection of Gorillaz material since their 2005 breakthrough record Demon Days. Whereas Humanz had the vibe of a splashy, Spotify-ready playlist with a head-turning number of twists and turns, The Now Now is a rather svelte, 11-track suite of cuts all working in concert with one another.
Stuttering synth melodies lock into and swirl around an impressive collection of different and varying drum patterns. The music doesn’t knock you down as much as it washes over you like a warm, comforting wave. It’s almost Tame Impala in its aesthetic, except maybe less psychedelic in execution and more sepia-tinged in feeling.
There is, however, a noticeable political edge to The Now Now that’s hard to mistake. Albarn, a proud Brit, reminds us all that while the US is certainly going through its fair share of problems, things are looking or feeling so great in the UK either, with the Brexit decision forcing the former empire into a further retreat from the rest of the world. “Calling the world from isolation,” goes a line on the album opener “Humility, “‘Cause right now, that’s the ball where we be chained.” A sense of place is an important touchstone on The Now Now, and you can feel it run through songs like “Hollywood” — one of the only songs that gets a superstar feature, this time the Long Beach rap icon Snoop Dogg — “Kansas,” “Lake Zurich,” and “Idaho.” If you were to call this album anything, you could do worse than describe it as a shiny and compelling travelogue, packed with momentary glimpses from the bus, plane and hotel window.
Recently, I had the chance to correspond with Gorillaz animated singer 2-D for a lively chat about The Now Now and how it all came together.
What made you want to get back into the studio so quickly after the release of Humanz?
I just woke up and felt this energy inside me, like I’m a meteor from outer space exploding into a million bits in the Earth’s atmosphere and sprinkling down my funky space juice onto all of humanity. (Russel told me to say that last bit and I might have got it wrong).
What was it like to work with Snoop Dogg on the song “Hollywood”
He’s a fan of my work, and we’re now super close showbiz buddies. We even have our own secret handshake. I hold my hand up like I’m going in for a high five, and he punches me. We’re tight.
What is the meaning behind the name The Now Now?
It’s not always a good idea to look behind things. I learned that when I looked behind Murdoc’s cupboard and found a gateway to hell. Which was scary, although the flames make it quite good for drying towels. But the point is, The Now Now isn’t about looking behind, because behind is the past, and this is the Now Now, not the Then Then.
There are far fewer guest features on this record than on your last one, was that a conscious decision or a more natural thing?
All my decisions are conscious, even when I’m asleep. That’s how woke I am.
What are some of the overall themes you’re exploring this go-around?
Blackness. With a hint of mauve.
There seems to be more singing on this record than earlier releases, how did it feel to lend more vocals to this project?
It allowed me to grow as an artist. I measured myself and I’m approximately 14 cm taller than I used to be. Although Noodle reckons it might be the roller skates.
How has the reception been for the new songs in a live environment thus far?
A lot of cheering, some crying. There was a small group of hecklers shouting ‘Free Murdoc’, but Russ had them rounded up and driven off in a van. I’ve got more important causes to worry about than Murdoc’s freedom, like saving Wales and smashing the cistern.
What does the future hold for Gorillaz?
The future holds a big sign saying ‘Gorillaz, this way.’ And I’m gonna follow that sign and find out what the future holds for us. I hope it’s not another sign.
The Now Now is out today via Warner Bros. Get it here.