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.