Gorillaz – The Now Now
Gorillaz's latest album The Now Now celebrates the interpenetration of alternate realities and our mundane. It’s a reminder that realities, real or otherwise, are shared
Melancholy and undecided lyrics about loneliness, isolation, and difficult choices float over summery synths, hazy harmonies, and George Benson’s unmistakably upbeat guitar. This is The Now Now. One of them, at least.
Damon Albarn’s been on a streak. Blur’s The Magic Whip (2015), Gorillaz’s Humanz (2017), and soon a follow up to The Good, The Bad & The Queen’s eponymous/anonymous 2007 debut – not a dud among them. He’s been busy making great art with talented collaborators and friends, but the predominant themes on The Now Now are those identified in the opening track: states of being bereft, purposeless, and ready for difficult change. The opening declaration – 'Calling the world from isolation' – families perfectly with the borderline Give Me the Night-vibe that Benson and the band create, but their tone soon sounds dissonantly with Albarn’s (or 2D’s) preoccupations: 'I'm the lonely twin, the left hand... / I don't want this isolation / See the state I'm in now... / If I pick it up when I know that it's broken / Do I put it back? / Or do I head out on to the lonesome track and let you go?'
Richly layered rhythmic grooves carry through much of the rest of the record, ably produced this time around by James Ford and Remi Kabaka. Far from the carnival of featured guests that was 2017’s 26-track Humanz, though, The Now Now, at 11 tracks and with only three comparatively unobtrusive features (Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle appear on Hollywood) is tighter conceptually but looser as a listening experience. There are long, multi-song meditative sections that swing low from where the airy opener leaves us – only to yield again to dark, expansive polyrhythms dressed in synths and trimmed in agogôs, opening up their depths under Ford’s obvious but welcome touch. Sonic notions possibly left over from the woodshop of The Magic Whip are expanded in The Now Now into a familiar alien field where the band invites us to reflect on what happens 'if you say goodbye too many times' (Fire Flies) and other things we might have heard 'on the training ground for the new world' (One Percent). Album closer Souk Eye is sublime.
Gorillaz have always trafficked in “alternative realities”; now the mainstream is catching up. Gorillaz’s occasional danceable and house party hits have, historically, taken off because of excellent art-pop conception and production coupled with a calculated understanding of the music-listening masses’ deepest needs, but the band’s appeal has always been strongest with those who wish for, well, alternatives that art, entertainment, news, and relationships don’t offer. Gorillaz offered an alternative, not a fantasy. And The Now Now celebrates the interpenetration of alternate realities and our mundane. It’s a reminder that realities, real or otherwise, are shared. Or, as Albarn intones in the opener, 'I need you in the picture / That’s why I’m calling you.' That’s an invitation even George Benson on a bad day couldn’t turn down.
Listen to: Humility, Hollywood, Souk Eye, One Percent