Gorillaz – Gorillaz
Released March 26th, 2001 on Parlophone Records
Produced by Dan The Automator
Peaked at #14 US, #3 UK
“Rock The House”
“Tomorrow Comes Today”
What better way to greet the 21st Century, with all it’s technological wonders and horrors, with a “virtual band”, something that seems straight out of a William Gibson novel about the Idoru but has despite this done quite well for itself over the years. I remember that when “Clint Eastwood” dropped it and the accompanying video were the coolest goddamn things I’d ever seen. It was, furthermore, probably one of the biggest factors in how I abandoned my teenage rockism and embraced first hip hop and then everything else as worthy of adoration. It almost didn’t happen though, because Damon Albarn comes off as an incredible dick at first blush, which I’m sure seems weird to everyone.
Jamie Hewlett, whose bizarre and brilliant comic Tank Girl never got the film it properly deserved, was invited to interview Blur by guitarist Graham Coxon, who was/is a big fan. This was in 1990, well before Britpop and the rise of Blur as a cultural force. Hewlett remembers thinking of Albarn as “arsey, a wanker”; during the interview Blur bassist Alex James got wasted and threw up. Then Hewlett started dating Coxon’s ex-girlfriend and the rest of the band gave him the finger – except Albarn. By 1997 both were single and moved in to their own apartment, where they spent eight months throwing an endless series of parties that attracted everyone from Pavement and the Spice Girls to David Bowie and Pete Townshend. Then they decided to settle down, but settling down included looking to the future and for Albarn this meant trying to expand his musical prowess beyond what would fit within the Blur framework. To this end he and Hewlett conceived of the idea for a virtual band of cartoons who made adult music. They roped in some names that were big at the time – Dan The Automator to handle production, Kid Koala for turntables, and Del The Funky Homosapien, whose verses make “Clint Eastwood” the absolute delight that it is. This was most of the team behind Del’s Deltron 3030 as well, but Gorillaz allowed them to expand beyond (admittedly epic) hip hop into dub, pop, reggae, and arty psychedelia. It’s a firehose of influences and energy, especially considering it’s reality is questionable at best. The group was originally conceived of while Albarn and Hewlett were watching MTV; it was meant as a comment on the plastic inauthenticity of what was popular on the channel at the time. It may have also had it’s roots in the famously media-fueled “Battle of Britpop” between Blur and Oasis, which eventually had Blur labeled as inauthentic and middle class when compared to the working class heroes of Oasis. Which, honestly, shows you how indescribably awful the British press is.
None of this would have been of any use if the music had sucked, but luckily the band part was just as strong as the virtual part. It’s an intoxicating mixture of music put together by a collective of some of the best contemporary artists and helmed by a madman who, as it turned out, was a hell of a lot more than just the frontman from Blur. Albarn has gone on to expand himself even further, churning out projects every few years with the kind of deft touch that would typically land someone a “Great Artist” label were it not for the fact that he is Damon Albarn. Gorillaz is a serious touchstone for my generation, though; it was seemingly the peak of cool in that odd, rather frightening year that coincided with my first year in college, an album that everyone could agree on as being worthy of being spun.