With the recent release of The Now Now, the sixth album from Gorillaz, it is possible to hear how the band’s style has settled into itself. Gone are the days of a wide-ranging collection of genres all refracted through their own inimitable style.
Here, pop is the name of the game and Gorillaz own this concretisation as confidently and successfully as when they were combining anything and everything. It is possible that the at times lack-lustre delivery of the music (relative to previous work at least) – for example on the opening track Humility – can be explained by this heightened focus, but it is a minor thing, perhaps just a subconscious realisation of increased limitation.
The album’s poppy approach was mostly comprised of a sort of 80s renaissance. The ubiquitous presence of synths in this album provided an impressive level of variety, and proved to be very entertaining to boot. For example, on “Hollywood“, when Snoop Dogg’s part comes in (which dramatically improves the song and ties it all together), an extra few layers of texture, made up of synths joins in too.
They oscillate through a range of filter passes (which make the sound fatter or thinner) and alternate between longer and more stabbing, staccato durations. In “Sorcererz” too, synths that can only be described as squelchy add a satisfactory heaviness to the sound. As with the inclusion of different genres found on previous albums, however, Gorillaz manage to give the elements they borrow their own idiosyncratic touch and the synths never sound regressive, just salutary.
Another change, that is undoubtedly for the better, is the huge paring back of the collaborations. The previous album Humanz (2017) was criticised for going overboard on the guest artists, so as if in response, Gorillaz have gone from sixteen collaborations to just three: Jamie Principle, Snoop Dogg (who appear on the same track, Hollywood) and George Benson (featuring on the opening track “Humility“).
It is likely, also, that the reduced input is due to the fact that a large proportion of The Now Now was recorded and released whilst Gorillaz were on tour. The result of this simpler approach is that the strength of Gorillaz’s songwriting, free from the decorative appearance of many, is revealed.
In addition, the unusual and expectation-defying melodies of 2D were consequently let out to play, and they made for a great listen. Good examples of this are “Kansas“, “Souk Eye” and “Magic City“.
Whilst the latter does use a more conventional melody, 2D’s loose, detached and expressive style comes through. The result in this instance is of a mournful, perhaps nostalgic mood being cast over the music, one that might not have been achievable if the melody had been less predictable.
The lyrical content was of a similar calibre, and the, at first ambiguous, meaningfully suggestive words were a delight to hear. They left you really guessing at what they could be about, listening closely to extract the message. Over the course of the album, this message was loosely constructed and had some thematic consistency. Initiated by “Humility”, Gorillaz seem to be calling for unity amongst people, and extend this in “Sorcererz” with a call to freedom and self-realisation.
An overarching characteristic of The Now Now is a well-produced glossiness (to be expected of a pop album) that nevertheless has depth. All of the tracks have an intricate layering of sound textures that interact with each other without clashing.
“Lake Zurich” is a good example of this, and could be said to give that instrumental glossiness the foreground. There are very few lyrics here, and when they do come out they are spoken almost in a whisper, beneath the rest of the music.
In fact, it acts as no more than a momentary interlude to the rest of the track. At times the high-production level can result in a somewhat manufactured aesthetic (as on “Tranz“), but overall it is a good aspect, and gives The Now Now a strong finishing touch that make it a strong piece of work, hopefully indicative of Gorillaz albums yet to come.
Purchase Gorillaz The Now Now album on iTunes here, and stream it on Spotify below.
Words by Ed Edwards