Let’s take this one for a test drive!
The self-titled debut album by the Gorillaz celebrates its sweet 16 this year, and upon reflection, it was the start of a brilliantly calculated concept band. The “band” is comprised of mostly Damon Albarn, frontman of Blur, and producer DJ, Dan “The Automator” Nakamura. But a lot of other hard work and guest appearances are here too. Including Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori, Kid Koala, and the Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth. And don’t forget the artist and animator, Jamie Hewlett. They all got together for this side project that draws from all genres of music, including Spaghetti-Western soundtracks, hip-hop, dub-reggae, prog-rock, and of course that second-generation Brit-Pop sound that Blur was known for forging in the 90’s.
From the opening track, the cheeky “Re-Hash”, Gorillaz show off their smart song crafting and sequencing, getting Blur fans hooked with this pop tune. Another Blur song is next with “5/4”, before moving into unfamiliar territory and more challenging material. Ambient and cinematic dub infused rants like “Tomorrow Comes Today” and “Double Bass”. Then there’s the sun-shining hip-hop on “Clint Eastwood” or “Rock the House”. And to cap it all off, the progressive rock build and punishing finish to the album on “M1 A1”.
This rollercoaster of an album was generally well received at the time, even though most reviews focused more on the videos and animated aspects of the band. Which were quite stunning, and those are still very cool and worth watching. Jamie Hewlett’s contributions to making this band what it was, and is, should never be undervalued.
16 years later, Gorillaz self-titled debut stands the test of time. It is a blurred collection of songs that holds together without the help of the animated shtick that got them noticed. It combines vast styles of music seamlessly, in an amalgamation that no one had done before, and really, only they continue to do, staying fresh and relevant and changing with the musical landscape with each subsequent album.