Anyone who has been following the career of Damon Albarn’s second biggest group over the last 13 years will be well aware that post-punk legend Mark E Smith added his inimitable phrasing to ‘Glitter Freeze’ last year. The glam-acid squelch of that ‘Plastic Beach’ album track saw him become the latest in a long line of unlikely vocalists to sing over the skewed pop-dance that has become their calling card.
So it was with some excitement during 2010 that we learned Gorillaz were releasing a fan-club-only album called ‘The Fall’; for after all, who hasn’t wondered what a cartoon hip-hop/electro-pop band covering ‘Hexen Definitive Strife Knot’ would sound like? Unfortunately the titular ‘Fall’ of the title refers not to northern England’s greatest rock band but to the season the album was made in. While on the ‘Plastic Beach’ tour of North America in autumn 2010 Albarn and cohorts set about recording a new album on iPads during a 32-day stretch between Montreal and Vancouver.
It’s immediately clear this is a profoundly different beast to the previous three albums, featuring barely any guest stars (although ‘Plastic Beach’ star Bobby Womack does turn up on the sublime synthetic soul of ‘Bobby In Phoenix’). This feels less like a talented middle-aged man and his sleb mates having a laugh and more like a cohesive album.
So there aren’t any retreads of ‘DARE’ or ‘Clint Eastwood’ but it is a stunning album from start to finish. We are treated to the lascivious Ohio Players/G-funk synth stylings of ‘The Snake In Dallas’, which sounds as if Dr Dre had been called in to produce The Go! Team. ‘Amarillo’ is a lachrymal ballad worthy of Blur in their pomp and ‘The Joplin Spider’ is aqua-crunk gone pop.
Thankfully, Albarn has now announced that this album is to get a physical release this month, which is fitting given that this quiet but ambitious record is one of the best he’s been associated with.