20 Years On: Gorillaz – Gorillaz (self-titled)

20 years after the release of the animated primates’ first LP, we take a look back at their self-titled hit.

The concept was simple: music played by an animated animal band. Prior to the creation of these musical monkeys, most would have likely scoffed at the very concept of such tomfoolery. Folks would be forgiven – before hearing the band, of course – for expecting a reincarnation of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Going on to sell more albums worldwide than Blur’s first four albums combined, Damon Albarn probably didn’t know it at the time but he was on to something pretty ground-breaking with Gorilliaz’ self-titled album. The virtual band owned 2001! They were inescapable. Masterminded entirely by Albarn, the primate project was never going to be poor. With that said, the music had to be good enough to carry an almost alien visual concept in the music industry.

The animation, orchestrated by artist, Jamie Hewlett, was carefully crafted and meticulous in detail. Each character had their own identity, personality quirks and – although cartoon – were believable as band compadres. From the self-obsessed and vacant singer, 2-D, down to the narcistic and decadent bass player, Murdoch – the characters make sense. The band even drove around in their own 4X4, aptly named, “Geep.”

The first two tracks of the album demonstrate a dipping-of-toes for Albarn into musical pastures new. The ghost of Blur looms heavy in these offerings, but they are solid and different enough. Re-Hash has a strong acoustic loop, reminiscent of Beck spliced with Moby. Similarly, although perhaps less catchy, 5/4 is another great track. The choppy, distorted guitars are cutting and dramatic, and the track flows seamlessly from Re-Hash; however, it slumps towards the end of the track when it should really be picking up the tempo.

Track 3 brings an instant change of pace – a slower pace – with Tomorrow Comes Today – a number that’s cooler than The Fonz’s fridge. The heavy hip-hop beat, augmented perfectly with the splendidly sorrowful harmonica – and later whistling – is a match made in monkey heaven.

Clint Eastwood – the track that started it all. The song sounded so vibrantly fresh and distinctively different to every other musical offering of the day. It was a huge gamble given the concept of the band, but the gamble won big at the table. It’s sound is haunting and hypnotic in equal measure. The fluid and meandering rapped verses are fantastically resolved by the famous chorus from Albarn. Cint Eastwood being preceded by the god-awful New Genius (Brother) and followed by the equally terrible Man Research (Clapper), only added to the stand-out brilliance of the track – truly a rose between two thorns, sounding as great now as it did then.

Sound Check (Gravity), evolves into a captivatingly mesmeric effort. If one can get past the shrieking of the word, “gravity”, this track is a tool of seduction and groove personified, reminiscent of a DJ Shadow release. A genuinely strong example of where Gorillaz would later tread.

Double Bass is an intriguing number and no mistake. Listeners will either love or hate it – probably the latter. However, listen to the track in its entirety, and by the end of the confusing cacophony, you won’t be able to resist imitating the computerised tones.

Gorillaz’ third single, Rock The House, is another stylish affair. The trumpet hook is so strong, you could literally hang your coat from it. In the early noughties, you would have found yourself humming or singing it all day; the humming would likely intrigue a friend or two, as well. As a hip-hop tune, Rock The House, has it all – bass groves funkier than a skunk, effortless rapping, and a flute so shrill, you’d have thought Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson had been drafted in.

And then comes 19-2000. Gorillaz legend has it that the riff was sampled from 2-D’s alarm clock and then looped – a pleasing image. Paired with a futuristic music video, this track was a sure-fire hit. Miho Hatori’s vocal performance in the chorus, brought the character of Noodles to life, and was a memorable as it was catchy.

Sadly, from this point, the rest of the album is a hodgepodge of bordering-self-indulgent nothingness – the less said about Starshine, the better. The album slowly but surely burns out like a fire on a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean. However, the album has already – for the most part – satisfied.

This record put Gorillaz on the map, and their self-titled album acts as a solid prologue to the stratospheric success of the universally acclaimed Demon Days. Albarn needed this trial run to produce Demon Days, and he clearly had a lot of fun along the journey.


Skip to: Rock The House & Sound Check (Gravity)

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