To this day I remember the first time I saw a Gorillaz music video. I was in Denver’s Hard Rock Cafe when I was about 7 years old, and the music video for their popular song “Clint Eastwood” was on. As soon as I got home from that trip, I immediately bought their first album, and later bought Demon Days as well. Through both middle school and high school, their first two albums stayed in some of my favorite albums ever, but they’ve since departed from them over the past 13 years.
While I will always have sentimental feelings towards their first two albums (I don’t count Laika Come Home), I think there’s a big argument to be made for why exactly they’re the greatest that they’ve made. From its original release in 2010, I was never a huge fan of Plastic Beach, as it felt like a large departure from the two previous albums that I loved. To me, it almost felt like more of a compilation album than anything else, with the large amount of features it had on it. While they did create most of the music, they were no longer the highlight, and it began to turn into a weird hip-hop adventure with Snoop Dogg. Their creativity seemed to be stinted from a musical perspective, and they seemed to be producing albums more than making them themselves. My two favorite songs on the album, “Rhinestone Eyes,” and “On Melancholy Hill” were both their own, with no other artist featured. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. This proved, to me, that they still had this musical creativity to make fun projects and constantly expand their work, but in their own way instead of using other people.
Some may argue this could be due to their other project, The Fall also being released around the same time. This was an incredibly experimental, and was recorded daily while on the road, almost like a diary, as Damon Albarn said. Maybe they were saving the more experimental, weirder side of the band for this instead, but who’s to say? However, I wasn’t really a fan of The Fall either. Because of the blatant lack of production and equipment, it wasn’t a great incredibly fun to listen to and was at best something to put on in the background while reading or something. The years 2010 and 2011 were not great years for me and my opinions on the Gorillaz because they hadn’t done what they had previously shown they were capable of doing, and that’s making great, original, creative pieces.
Sadly, these feelings continued even further with the release of their 2017 album, Humanz. I was not a huge fan of this either. Not only did this display the same exact issues I had with Plastic Beach, but it also added on unnecessary interludes and skits and filler that I didn’t take to well. It once again felt less like a Gorillaz album and more like someone else’s project that they were producing, and while I enjoyed a select few songs, most I wasn’t a huge fan of. The creativity of the project is certainly nothing to question, but I was beginning to doubt if I’d see any album like their first two ever again.
Well, the surprise of more Gorillaz music in 2018 was kind of bittersweet to me. While I did want to keep up hope that the old Gorillaz would come back, I didn’t have much of it left due to the past 13 years of work. That being said, I gave the album a listen, and it was better than expected. I would probably say I enjoy their new album, The Now Now, much more than anything they’ve released after Demon Days, but it’s still a large stylistic gap from what they did back then. Rather than the genre-transcending, creative masterpieces they once had, it sounds more like an above average synth-pop album. It seems to follow a lot of what Damon Albarn has done recently, particularly with Blur’s newest album, and that’s fine. It’s just not the Gorillaz I still go back and listen to weekly almost.
All of these nitpicks aren’t about the band changing their sound. That’s fine. They’re more about the band wasting their potential, in my mind. If you go back and look at their very first albums, you’ll find that they often had features from other artists and a fondness for hip-hop, but those wouldn’t be the essence of the album. It was clearly created, driven, written, etc. by them, and their creativity was impeccable. They hopped from genre to genre, with punk, funk, electronic, hip-hop, and more featured on each album. They even swapped up the language with songs like “Latin Simone (Que Pasa Contigo)” and “Left Hand Suzuki Method.” But it didn’t make it any less accessible, and if you ask most people for their favorite Gorillaz songs, or the most popular, they’ll most likely come from those years. The production was crisp, the vision was incredibly interesting, and every song felt like its own entity, whereas now, they’re either hip-hop producers or a newer indie pop project.
I’ve never really been into Gorillaz lore, or the story of the digital band. I don’t like anything they’ve done recently too much (mainly because I have high as hell standards). I don’t think they make bad music, per se, but I look back to the band I once loved so much and get disappointed. I would have at one point considered myself a die-hard Gorillaz fan, but at this point, I’m looking for something that isn’t there anymore. While I still think they possess the creativity and talent to make something like that once again, the musical decisions they’ve been making cause me to seriously doubt that it’ll ever happen. I’m incredibly glad they continue to have such a large following, and I wish them luck in their future endeavors. I’ll probably just keep listening to my early 2000’s Gorillaz in my basement no matter what.