Having made fans wait seven years for their 2017 album Humanz, Gorillaz latest release The Now Now arrives with less fuss but more flavour. It marks a return to the sound we saw in their excellent 2010 release, Plastic Beach, where the band hit a more reflective and personal tone than the cartoon character front which made them famous.
Produced by band member Remi Kabaka Jr. and James Ford, the Simian Mobile Disco member who is often called the 'fifth Arctic Monkey' and who produced their album AM, The Now Now is stripped back to 11 tracks and features just three guest appearances: George Benson, Jamie Principle and Snoop Dogg.
It's markedly better for not having to temper too many other talents - unlike its predecessor which struggled under the weight of including fifteen collaborators from Carly Simon to Vince Staples to Grace Jones.
The albums shines most in its gloomy and quiet moments. 'Kansas' is a particular highlight with a squelching hook and warped autotune vocals from Albarn which have the same world-weary sound as in Kanye West's latest album and James Blake's new release. The track also has echoes of Gorillaz's similarly stirring and downcast tracks 'On Melancholy Hill' or 'Rhinestone Eyes' from Plastic Beach.
'You got me lost in Magic City / You got me questioning it all / I hope that I make it home by Wednesday / And this Magic City lets me go' implores 'Magic City', drifting ethereally as though flying over a cityscape while bells trill in the backgroubd. The track then cuts short abruptly leaving you wondering if it was all a daydream.
- gorillaz (@gorillaz) June 2, 2018
'Humility' with George Benson is a worthwhile collaboration where the soulful sound of the jazz icon features tropical guitar riffs reminiscent of his seminal 'Give me the Night'. It's an infectious summer hit which you can already imagine blaring out of speakers in parks across the country.
A less well executed collaboration is seen in 'Hollywood' featuring Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle, a synth-warped hazy moment which fails to make the most of either guest appearance and falls a little flat.
'Fire Flies', 'One Percent' and 'Souk Eye' are a downbeat triptych which appear to be trudging toward the end of the album. The last track then lifts you from melancholy with building disco sound which mounts teasingly but never fully comes out of the background.
If Humanz was the virtual band catching up on what they missed out over all those years, The Now Now is them pausing to reflect. It's a more moving and engrossinf album for it - proof Gorillaz are still a musical force to be reckoned with.
'The Now Now' is out 29 June
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