The Now Now is a slower, more simplified work from Gorillaz, as Imogen Mellor argues that it fails to deliver on energy and experimentation
The most successful animated band ever, Gorillaz, released their sixth album The Now Now on June 29th. As a long time fan of the work of Damon Albarn (from Blur) and long time collaborator and cofounder of the band Jamie Hewlett, I was interested to see in what direction they would take the fictional characters and their sound.
For those unfamiliar with the Gorillaz, they are sort of a four piece band regularly made up of 2-D (lead singer and vocals by Albarn), Russell, Noodle and Murdoc (who’s speaking voice is also Albarn). In this album Murdoc, however, is in prison and has been replaced with Ace, who hilariously, is from the Powerpuff Girls. Not a representation of a character from Powerpuff Girls. An actual villain from the Powerpuff Girls. If you think this is weird, it’s supposed to be. It’s the vibe that Gorillaz go for and it’s one that myself and other fans have always enjoyed.
On to The Now Now. After the album Humanz released in 2017, one of the main criticisms I had of it, and I know others felt the same, was that it was crammed with collaborators. This isn’t something new for the Gorillaz. They are, by nature, a group that relies on the help of artists, big and small, old and new. It’s how they have always worked. Humanz however took this too far in some ways, with every song being too different to really hear the voice of 2-D, one of the main draws of the band’s sound. This new album fixes this issue, and I appreciate it for that. Being able to hear a character’s voice throughout is one of the best ways to tie an album together. One of the reasons I think it achieved this is the quick turn around with albums. It’s been only a year since Humanz was released, and it had been a good long while since the band had released something before that. I imagine artists really wanted to collaborate with them in 2017, and Albarn and Hewlett could take more control on this album.
It may just be my music taste changing, but this album seems just a little lacklustre. It’s not to say that the album may not be great to some people, just for me it’s a little boring. I found myself on the first few listens of some songs, wanting to skip them and find something more interesting within the album. I always want to love a Gorillaz album. I tried to love this one, but I don’t think I can.
One of the positives or negatives, depending on your preference, about this album is its chill tone throughout. Personally I’ve always preferred the more direct nature of their songs. It’s a hard thing to fully explain, but the best way I can, is the way that the band will put an emotion before you and stick to it. However, I find this album just sorts of ambles along. There isn’t much to talk about. It really comes across as a bit of a sad, lonely compilation of music Albarn hasn’t been able to put anywhere else.
That being said, there is some music I do really like on this album. ‘Fire Flies’ has a beat to it that has a nice groove and sort of synth bass line. It’s always a plus when a pop song can handle changing time signatures well and this track seamlessly goes from ¾ to 4/4 really well. Its lyrics are also some of the best from this project, with a message of sorrow about losing someone, making ‘Fire Flies’ one of the best songs on the album.
‘Souk Eye’ also has a certain something about it. The sort of song you’d want to hear on a Saturday morning when you wake up at 10:30 and you can smell bacon and your curtains are flowing in the wind. Or at least that’s when I would like to hear it. It’s nice. It’s cute. It’s everything that the rest of the album isn’t and I love it for that. It’s got a small Latin beat that gives it just that slight danceability without it being a dance song, making it the closest you’d hear the Gorillaz get to Corinne Bailey Rae or Lianne La Havas.
Without a doubt the song that works the least on this album is ‘Idaho’ . If you like a strangely country music inspired, slow ballard style, boring monotone, this song is for you. Gorillaz have proven on many albums that they can do slow well, with songs like ‘New Genius (Brother)’ from their self titled album, or ‘El Manana’ from Demon Days. This is not slow done well. This is slow done to the point of the song dying. That being said, last time I disliked a song this much by Gorillaz, it (We Got The Power, from Humanz) was nominated for several music awards and won a Brit award, so take what I say with a pinch of salt.
As a little bit of self reflection, I wrote the album review for Humanz last year, but look at it now and think I underestimated some songs or would go back and listen to the album as pretty good and upbeat; a fun mood shifter. I feel like I was harsh there, but even in that moment, I preferred Humanz overall. I listened to the band’s previous works when trying to get a feel of them again, and I enjoy their previous work all that much more when in comparison to this latest album. I prefer music when it has a more interesting sound than many of The Now Now’s tracks. Overall however, I would give this album a listen if you are interested in a band that have changed their sound a lot over their last few albums. If you like the Gorillaz as a more slow ballard-y group then this album is for you, but if you’re like me and prefer something more experimental, this comes as a bit of a disappointment.