2017 was a very turbulent time for the world, and what Humanz did well was represent this. However, it’s scope was somewhat tarnished, as the record often found itself all over the place. After a very quick turnaround, this endearing band of cartoon misfits return, but will The Now Now see them strike the same cultural notes as they did previously? And perhaps more importantly, will it all gel together better?
Last year saw the long-awaited return of the world’s favourite virtual band Gorillaz through the release of their 4th studio album, Humanz. Teeming with bleak social commentaries, inventive instrumentals and a generous bounty of guest appearances courtesy of popular artists originating from a vast spread of genres- from soul legend Mavis Staples all the way to Long Beach rapper Vince Staples (no relation)- Humanz had plenty of standout tracks. However, to its detriment, its extensive feature list bloated the record to the point where it was- basically- a total mess, as well as leaving a lot to be desired from the band’s musical mastermind Damon Albarn, as the spotlight was seldom shone on the former Blur vocalist.
Shortly after the release of Humanz, Albarn hinted that there would be more music from the band in the very near future, and little more than a year after the release of their 4th LP, Gorillaz return with their 5th, The Now Now. Take one look at the track listing and you’ll quickly discover that the aforementioned gripes are nowhere to be seen. Despite only being about 10 minutes shorter than their preceding release, The Now Now is a much leaner 11 tracks, none straying too far from the 3-4 minute mark. Not only this, but there are only two tracks on the entire album that have any feature credits whatsoever- surely this bunch of animated anti-heroes are onto a winner here then?
It certainly seems this way from the outset, as The Now Now kicks off well with Humility, a lusciously mellow track with smooth grooves and guitar courtesy of George Benson. Lyrically, Albarn sends out a call to arms for the younger generations, currently disillusioned with the world and current affairs, to unite, a pleasant departure from the previous record’s often doomed perspectives. The music video for Humility delves deeper into the lore of the virtual outfit, as founding bassist Murdoc Niccals is replaced by Ace, a villain you may remember from Cartoon Network’s The Power Puff Girls(?!), as well as featuring a cameo from actor and half of Tenacious D, Jack Black, obviously.
Hollywood recruits US house forefather Jamie Principle and G-Funk legend Snoop Dogg on another early highlight, as the former’s influence on the track is apparent: a rather unsettling, yet incredibly infectious dance beat lays the foundation on this one, and Albarn’s lyrics detail the superficial nature of the neighbourhood this song takes its title from. Lake Zurich is very much in the same vein in terms of instrumentation, albeit Principle’s absence, yet still possesses all of the musical quirks and idiosyncrasies to qualify it as a Gorillaz track through and through.
Now this is all well and good, but it comes with great regret to say that my highest praises for The Now Now pretty much end there. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a solid album, and there isn’t anything particularly god-awful to be found on it- there’s just nothing really exceptional about the remainder of it. In an interview with Radio X, Albarn explained that the album was recorded in a short period of time, ensuring that Gorillaz would have fresh material to play at upcoming live appearances, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t show. Humanz may have lacked in organisation, but it certainly made up for in ambition and memorability, mostly due to the adversely large list of other artists attached to it. The Now Now finds itself on the other side of the spectrum; many tracks often feel TOO bare and somewhat underwhelming, and could really benefit from a hook or verse from the likes of Danny Brown, Grace Jones- hell, even Shaun Ryder would do the job!
I’m aware it’s awfully finicky to criticise a record for one particular reason, just to poke holes in the subsequent LP for the exact opposite, but it is this failure to strike a perfect balance between collaboration and cohesion that has prevented both of these records from being brilliant, as opposed to just being decent.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Humility, Hollywood, Lake Zurich
LEAST FAVOURITES: Fire Flies, Idaho, Magic City
Listen to The Now Now by Gorillaz here: