Gorillaz – The Now Now (4 stars)

Gorillaz – The Now Now

Another engaging and crucially of-its-time pop record from the 'cartoon band'

The idea that the 50-year-old former singer of Blur and the creator of Tank Girl, a feminist comic strip whose greatest spike of popularity came sandwiched between the Riot Grrrl and Girl Power explosions of the 1990s, being just what we need to hear in 2018 is an unusual proposition. Yet when the pair invented the 'cartoon band' Gorillaz exactly twenty years ago, the nature of the animated aliases which they had created for themselves means the project was limited only by the continuing novelty of the idea.

Where last year's comeback album Humanz was maligned – mostly unfairly, it must be said – for the kitchen sink-packing way in which it crammed in the high-profile guests and diluted the core idea, this rapidly-recorded follow-up is all (or mostly) Albarn. The exceptions are the dreamy opener 'Humility', in which Albarn declares 'I don't want this isolation' with a kind of blissed-out assurance, and George Benson murmurs in the background; and 'Hollywood', a companion of sorts to Humanz' 'Ascension', in which the voices of Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle decry the temptations of LA power and fame.

There's a tension throughout between the bright, upbeat pop musicality which we've come to expect from Gorillaz and the world-weariness in Albarn's voice, which offers a different manner of state-of-the-world address to that which the louder and more upbeat tone which Humanz brought. Yet while the sense is of an artist who's more relaxed here, and perhaps more ground-down, the strident confidence which Albarn brings to his work rings through. 'Everybody hold on to your inner vision,' he croons soulfully amid 'Sorcererz' slow-jam, while there's a mournful, pastoral aspect to 'Idaho', a dreamlike sense of hip hop-timed disorientation to 'Magic City' and a tropicalia-infused sense of regret to the closing 'Souk Eye'.

Even where the record is notably upbeat – the grimy electro of 'Tranz', for example, or the gorgeous, soulful synthesiser funk of 'Lake Zurich' – there's still a certain sense of warm sonic nostalgia, of harking back to the good old days. Yet nothing feels dated or dull, and while the concerns about ageing, fame and disappointment hinted at in the lyrics are Albarn's and not those of his cartoon avatars, The Now Now is simply another engaging and crucially of-its-time pop record to add to the pile which Gorillaz have made already.

Out now on Parlophone.

Post a comment