On Jan. 30, Gorillaz released a music video titled “Momentary Bliss,” featuring British rapper Slowthai, and the band Slaves – the hard-hitting track got fans of the virtual band ready for a cacophony of kooky tunes.
Damon Albarn, the singer behind 2-D, changed the music industry forever when he released the album “Gorillaz,” a 2001 funky alternative rock album featuring four virtual band members, illustrated by Jamie Hewlett.
Since then, Gorillaz has been a prevalent figure in both the rock and hip hop scene – “Song Machine, Season One: Stange Timez” marks the band’s seventh album.
The project opens up with “Strange Timez,” featuring The Cure’s Robert Smith, a track full of offbeat trumpets and robot sound effects, connected with a simple keyboard melody. It produces a mystical vibe, leaving the listener wondering where their place is in the world, or rather, during these “Strange Timez.” Smith’s fiery passion is on full display while he triumphantly sings the chorus, ultimately contrasting 2-D’s monotone verses.
2-D’s thought-provoking lyricism is prevalent, with lines such as, “I’m speeding through the forest strange echoes of Belarus / Where presidents pin badges on disconnected youth / What would you be dreaming of? No horseplay, no diving / Cutting glass with scissors, whilst the great leaders reclining.”
“The Valley of The Pagans” is the big return of Beck himself, and arguably better than ever. Damon truly capitalized on what made Beck great – lyrics that seem like nonsense, but in reality, are just strings of interesting metaphors and wordplay. The funky beat is accompanied by a scathing, high pitched keyboard – at points, the inner Beck comes out with heavy, intense guitar riffs.
Ultimately, this track seems to have a unique emphasis on social media, and our presence in the online world, as Beck sings, “She’s a plastic Cleopatra on a throne of ice / She’s a hemophiliac … With a dying battery light / Candy-colored fingers and schadenfreude eyes / Thinkin’ airbrushed thoughts with a logo on her mind.” This track hits particularly hard as it’s somewhat of a throwback considering the feature, but it’s lyrics are more relevant than ever.
In what feels like a perfect song for driving on a rainy Friday night after a breakup – “The Lost Chords,” featuring Leee John brings the album down to a particularly somber tone. The song is repetitive, but mostly to bring attention to the masterful instrumental backing the track. The mix of wavy guitar riffs, piano, and synths make the track incredibly catchy.
The song’s production should not be ignored – but among the other unforgettable tracks, “The Lost Chords” seems to be lost among the rest of the LP.
Speaking of unforgettable tracks, ScHoolboy Q shines on “PAC-MAN,” a song that brings the band back to the familiar territory of 2-D’s beautiful harmonic tones over a heavy rap feature – reminiscent of “Feel Good Inc.,” or “November Has Come.”
Murdoc slaps the bass to produce a grimy bassline, with a keyboard reminiscent of video game sound effects. 2-D laments about being lost in the world, and the anxieties people feel when they delve into their past.
However, what makes this track one of the best on the entire album is how ScHoolboy Q almost completely steals the attention from 2-D. The track goes silent, almost as if the stage is being prepared for Q to come out and spit facts. He viscously raps, “Yo, I been at the top of the top, fell from the ceiling before I fell / ‘Cause I needed to grow, Bruce Leeroy, with the glow, uh / Walk on the edge, f*** trying to dream in the bed / ‘Fore I die on these meds, n**** gon’ die in the feds / ‘Fore I make it to jail, I’ll probably put one in the head / F*** the judge and prosecutor for hanging me dead.”
ScHoolboy Q has always been someone to tackle injustice head on, and just as video game developers create obstacles in games to defeat the players, the American justice system has created a world in which African Americans have to constantly fight.
“Chalk Tablet Towers,” featuring St. Vincent is certainly a track some may find enjoyable, but it definitely has a pop-party theme vibe – a well-produced one, but a party track nonetheless.
St. Vincent isn’t heavily featured in the track, and while it’s more than likely she was essential in developing this track, limiting her to two duo sections with 2-D and ad-libs, make her seem less important than other features on the album.
Another highlight of the album has to be the anticipated track featuring Sir Elton John and 6LACK, “The Pink Phantom.” When people heard these two would be collaborating with Damon, the initial reaction was confusion, as they come from two completely different genres.
Fortunately, “The Pink Phantom” not only works, but serves as a testament to Damon’s incredible singing and mixing abilities.
2-D’s bleak, yet smooth singing acts as an auditory bridge between 6LACK’s monotone, autotuned rap, and Elton John’s powerful, masterful voice. The clash of sounds and genres almost doesn’t work, but this messiness is innovative and refreshing.
At one point, 2-D’s and Elton John’s piano medleys furiously collide, and although the tempo of the song has been completely abolished, it feels as if two huge figures throughout music history are duking it out in the most playful way possible.
Fans of 6LACK can definitely draw parallels to his rapping pattern, and the theme of this song, to his 2016 song “Prblms.” On the track, he desperately raps, “Wait, I got so many examples of all of the good times we had / Long summer nights / Held you a long time, put your name in my rhymes / Refresh your memory of where you wanna be / The phantom’s on the way, she’s comin’ down the street.”
“Aries,” is the typical 2-D monotone song – most of the seven albums have it, this record is one of them. There isn’t much to say for this track, other than it doesn’t compete well with the rest of the tracklist. However, with Peter Hook on the bass, and Georgia on the drums, the instrumental behind the track exhibits infinite good vibes.
“Opium,” featuring EARTHGANG, starts with two minutes of straight percussion mixed with synths, and while this is admittedly a long time to wait, EARTHGANG’s feature is more than worth it.
Johnny Venus of EARTHGANG screams out, “I’ve been cooped up for a minute,” and several other of their deepest anguishes and anxieties, only for him to completely switch up to a fast, joyous verse accompanied by playful cheering in the background.
Briefly mentioned before, “Momentary Bliss,” featuring Slowthai and Slaves was the song to kick off the song machine, but oddly enough it serves as the final song in the tracklist. Although corny, Damon took “save the best for last” to heart, as this powerful punk song may be one of the strongest tracks in all of Gorillaz’s discography.
The song will make you want to run a mile, finish all your work as fast as possible, then maybe run another mile if you have the energy – it’s that hype.
The smooth guitar riffs turn into what you would hear at a mosh pit at points in the song, as Slowthai’s inner British punk star comes out, singing, “It makes me sick to think you ain’t happy in your skin! / It’s wearing thin to think light bulb don’t blink! / Just flickers, so dim, then it pops and withers! / You’re a Turkey Twizzler, you deserve school dinners!”
This album feels as if its theme is really what Gorillaz has always been about – the world sucks, and the connections you have with others are the greatest treasure someone can obtain. Damon was able to get artists from all over the world, and connect them all together through the power of his voice and mixing.
This sort of wholesomeness is what we need for the rest of 2020, and the Song Machine delivers exactly that.