Call me a fake Gorillaz fan, but there was about a five year gap between the last time I listened to a full Gorillaz album and their 2018 album, The Now Now. Somehow, I completely missed Humanz. Maybe I was trying to suppress the memory of a younger, angstier version of myself listening to them on my way to high school. For whatever reason, they were still in their Plastic Beach phase for me until a couple of months ago.
My roommate, on the other hand, is a die hard Gorillaz fan, and she already filled me in on the past couple of years of Gorillaz lore and shamed me for being fake so you don’t have to. (She thinks Murdoc should stay in prison for the good of the band. Controversial, I know.)
After catching up on everything I missed out on, The Now Now is more closely connected to their first two albums. It seems almost pared down in comparison to their last album, which makes the lyrics and production resonate more and drives home a sense of isolation. It also limits the features to just three artists, two on “Hollywood,” where it seems fitting with the song’s themes anyway. The song is about the seductive power of celebrity, the different voices layering the words as though they are whispering to the narrator makes sense.
The Gorillaz as a concept came out of the two founding members, Jamie Hewitt and Damon Albarn, watching music videos on MTV and reflecting on the meaninglessness of the music industry. They made the fictional group as a response, and it evolved into a critique of society in general. Songs like “One Percent” and “Magic City” on The Now Now explicitly criticize materialism. That’s an ironic message coming from a band who wrote the lyrics in penthouse hotel rooms, but the songs are still good, so I’ll take it.
I love the Gorillaz best when their songs support their story line and internal world building, yet on the surface are still making music you can listen to independent of all that. I think you could listen to The Now Now not knowing anything about the band’s mission and still feel the mood they’re trying to create. The Gorillaz’s older albums always made me feel happy (it’s great pop music, that’s just a fact), but they also gave me a strong sense of foreboding, like a fever dream that’s about to take a turn into the seriously weird. The Now Now definitely continues that theme. “Humility” starts with the words “calling the world from isolation”, but the tune feels like surf rock. In “Sorcererz,” the lyrics “what is this droning, I hear it, there?” keep repeating, and, with the beat, put you into a kind of music-induced trance. I recommend listening to it with the spiral visualizer for the full three minutes, it’s wild.
The Now Now brought me back to the Gorillaz. The music still makes me feel the same way it did years ago but it has a new, evolved form. It’s their duality that makes their music so successful. Any other band wouldn’t be able to make music that’s perfect for driving but also makes you question why you need to turn off your brain so often. I know I’m going to keep listening to this album as mindless, happy music and to keep me up at night thinking about life, because somehow it can do both.
Review By: Margo Broderick