How Gorillaz redefined being a band by constantly changing its style
In honor of their new album coming out tomorrow, April 28, 2017
Gorillaz has been around in my life for almost as far as I can remember. Damon, of course, has been making music for a pretty long while, but this little project which has grown to a critically acclaimed band started around with a strange album which nobody could really define. It had elements from punk, rock, but all in all its style was pretty alternative to what everybody was listening at the time. They began in 1998 but I remember it was 2001 when they caught my attention. Of course, I was five years old and I was really attracted to the animation style, but as I grew up, and after Gorillaz came Demon Days, and Plastic Beach, and in between those, a bunch of B-sides albums, remixes, singles, and even a dub mix of the first album, and in each of them you could notice a pretty distinct style, which begs the question, what defines Gorillaz?
This is more or less related to yesterday's post about Heraclitus with change being the only constant in life. Besides flowing rivers, few examples are better than Gorillaz to show how change comes. If I asked you what genre the band is for you, I can assure you that you'd be pretty hard-pressed to describe it in one word, and you'd have to go from album to album and you would still struggle pretty much. Let's go over the phases that they've had.
Phase 1: Celebrity Takedown (2000-2003)
This phase began back in 2000, when Tomorrow Comes Today was released as an EP. Clint Eastwood was the first single released, featuring vocals by rapper Del da Funky Homosapien, who was in Deltron 3030 at the time. His cartoon was a spirit living in Russel. That same month the rest of the Gorillaz album was released, and Rock the House rose through the charts, then 19-2000. There was a collaboration with D12 called 911, which was about the terrorist attacks back in September 11, and there were rumors that a DVD was being made, but James Hewlett, the comic book artist who gave life to the band members, said that the project had been cancelled. During this phase, G-Sides was released, which was the B-sides for Gorillaz.
This phase's album could be defined as alternative rock, depending on the tracks, but then again, there's also Punk, which is punk, and the songs with Del were definitely more hip hop than alternative rock. There's also a bit of dub, some reggae, some Britpop, and of course, Latin music with Ibrahim Ferrer. In this album alone, probably the simplest one in terms of collaborators and styles, you can identify at least ten genres.
Rock the House
Latin Simone (Qué pasa contigo)
Phase 2: Slowboat to Hades (2003-2007)
December 8, 2004 was the day that Gorillaz repoened their site (which had been about Kong Studios before) with a video for a song called Rock It. In May, 2005, Demon Days came out and debuted as No. 1 in the U.K. Albums Chart. Dirty Harry was the third single the band released. In this album, you can find classics such as Feel Good Inc., DARE, and Kids With Guns. There was way more put into production of this album, including top-notch collaborators like De la Soul, Shaun Ryder, Bootie Brown, and Neneh Cherry. It outperformed the first album and has sold eight million copies worldwide.
Although the first album had somewhat of a coherent story, Demon Days was where everything began to be tied in, taking place in the world during the night, and like 911, followed a trend of criticizing the destruction that humanity can make, either of the planet, like seen in Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head and Demon Days, or each other, as seen in Dirty Harry.
The album's style continued to be a mixing of hip-hop and rock, but some of the more tranquil, experimental tracks were exchanged either for another sort of experimental track, or a sound which can be described as alternative or dark pop. The bass definitely put some more funk into the album if you compare it with the last one, where it was pretty elaborate but atmospheric at times. Sometimes they used holograms of the band members when they were playing concerts. Many of the younger Gorillaz fans view this phase as the one they remember fondly.
November Has Come
O Green World
Phase 3: Escape to Plastic Beach (2007-2013)
In 2007, Albarn and Hewlett were working on a project called Carousel which eventually came to be the album Plastic Beach. Many people were put off by the style in this album at first because it was definitely more pop than the others, but once shock passed you could see that this wasn't an ordinary album at all. In this one, there were more collaborators than ever before, with even bigger names, like Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Lou Reed, Little Dragon, Gruff Rhys, Bobby Womack, De la Soul, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, sinfonia ViVa, the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, and others. Shortly after the album was released, Doncamatic came out featuring Daley, and during the tour for Plastic Beach, Damon recorded The Fall in his iPad using Garage Band, then released it exclusively for paying fans. Later, DoYaThing with Andre 3000 and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem was released for Converse, along with a pair of shoes with a unique design.
In this album, the clear "winner" in popularity was On Melancholy Hill, which in a sense is very tranquil and upbeat, with melancholic lyrics. The interesting thing about the album is that it begins with pretty traditional instruments, and as it goes, it slowly starts using more synthesized sounds, until it eventually abandons the traditional and goes for the new, in a way reflecting the theme of nature adapting to the artificial. The whole message of the album is that, in the end, nature will find a way to thrive, it's been here before us and will be after.
Phase 4: We are still Humanz (2014 - Present)
The current phase of the band, in this one, hype has been built since back in 2014 when rumors of unreleased recordings, wishes of recording new songs, and teases about having written new songs were released through interviews. In 2016 is when Gorillaz began using social media to display its history since back in 2000, both as a way to catch new and prospective fans up and as a way to promote and generate hype for whatever was coming. A song called Hallelujah Money was also released, and Demon Dayz, a festival organized and curated by Damon Albarn himself, was organized and will take place June 10, 2017 at Maynard. As you can imagine, it didn't take long at all for tickets to be sold out.
Although the full album isn't out yet, we have pretty much seen the style through the songs that have been released, including Ascension, Andromeda, Saturn Barz, We Have the Power, and Let me Out, which already have their own remixes. It's definitely pretty different, and even though it's taking some used to just like Plastic Beach did, I am glad that Gorillaz still hold true to their change and try new things out. There are a lot of collaborators in this album, many of which I've never even heard of, so there's also a lot of new music out there to discover for fans of the band. Until now we have seen songs with Vince Staples, D.R.A.M., Popcaan, and Jehnny Beth, among a few others.
Let Me Out
What can we learn from this?A lot of people are pretty eager to tag themselves as one clique or with one style of thinking. The metalhead, the rapper, the nihilist, the anarchist, and though many do change, not many actually do the effor tto see the context that they're in and adapt to what is needed at the time. Gorillaz couldn't even be defined at first, and although you could say they're more pop now than ever before, they're still doing their own thing, and they're all the better for it.
So if you find something that's pretty unique and groundbreaking, go ahead and do it but don't get stuck with one single style or pattern. After all, once you've done it, it's been done, so you might as well find another new and unique thing to do.
Visit the official Gorillaz website here: