Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gorillaz - The Fall review

It is amazing to consider how far technology can improve in just a few short years.  Damon Albarn, the mastermind behind cartoon superstars, Gorillaz, recently released the band's fourth full length album, free of charge, on Christmas Day.  The album, titled The Fall, was recorded and produced entirely on Albarn's iPad during Gorillaz North American stretch of their world tour in support of their stellar third album, Plastic Beach.

It seems as though Albarn's muse just might be the United States of America, as he has previously toyed with the surge of creativity that one can get as a result of touring back in 2003, culminating in the rather underwhelming collection of demos, DemocrazyDemocrazy was a collection of demos that Albarn had recorded during the US leg of Blur's Think Tank tour, and consist primarily of plinking Casiotone leads, clunky drum beats and a melodica.  The songs, if one can even call them that, are snippets and scraps of half baked ideas, stillborns that chronicle the songwriting process (at least one of these ideas "I Need A Gun", was returned to and given a proper treatment as "Dirty Harry" on Gorillaz Demon Days album).  The problem with Democrazy was that the songs were demos and ultimately made people wonder why they were even released, especially since Albarn is the type that seems to be constantly churning out new music.  I have to admit, when I first heard that Albarn and company were going to release another album of songs written in hotel rooms, I was skeptical to say the least.

The Fall, however, is the real deal.  Recorded over thirty-two days, the album is so slick, that if Albarn hadn't told us, there is no way anyone would know if that the album was recorded "non-traditionally".   The album weaves seamlessly from track to track, immersing the listener into an auditory journal of the United States with the help of snippets of local American radio shows and even announcements made over PA systems at train stations.  The album is deeply routed in electronic production, which seems only natural considering the absence of a studio.  This is not to say that the album sounds like someone playing with GarageBand.  There are a number of traditional instruments including the guitar and (you guessed it) synthesizers galore.

Out of the fifteen tracks that appear on the album, there are a number of stellar songs, most notably "Revolving Doors" and the absolutely beautiful "Amarillo".  There are a few throw away tracks sprinkled throughout The Fall, the most obvious being some of the instrumental songs that pepper the album.  They aren't necessarily bad, it's just that they are forgettable and almost eerily similar to the half baked ideas of Democrazy.  What is most interesting about this album is the absence of the studio and the numerous musical guest stars (although it should be noted that Bobby Womack and Mick Jones appear on The Fall).  In the studio, Albarn and his Gorillaz pull out all of the stops, but in the hotel room, on a tablet computer, you see a more intimate Gorillaz, stripped of the bells and whistles.  Overall The Fall is a complex, yet subdued album.  It is a compelling listen, and works as the perfect companion piece to the superb Plastic Beach.

Gorillaz The Fall

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