Delinquent/bassist Murdoc ran over keyboardist 2D with his car—twice. NYC-native Russel, kicked out of private school after being possessed by a demon (and ultimately exorcised), found his salvation in drumming and rapping. The musical trio met marvelously one day at a record store and went on to enlist the talents of Noodle, a tiny Japanese girl who jumped out of a Fed-Ex crate wielding a Les Paul. Thus, the legend of Gorillaz was born. The real story, however, is much less entertaining, yet interesting all the same. Gorillaz is a virtual band whose music accompanies its website rather than vice versa (official sites, recently discovered by industry executives, have become thrifty marketing tools). It’s also the first collaborative effort between Blur frontman Damon Albarn and super-producer Dan “The Automator” Nakamura (best known for the album Handsome Boy Modelling School), and features a slew of guest artists including Del The Funkee Homosapien and Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori.
“Re-Hash,” like much of the album, is reminiscent of Beck’s unique casserole of styles, mixing acoustic guitars, drum machines and turntables. The track cascades into a peculiar harmony between Hatori and Albarn. Snapshot memories are tainted with hi-tech new-millenium paranoia on “Tomorrow Comes Today,” one of the most radio-friendly tracks on the album: “The verdict doesn’t love our soul/The digital won’t let me go.” The garage guitar-driven “5/4” features fuzzy bass and bizarrely lovelorn lyrics: “She made me kill myself…She turned my dad on!” “M1 A1” is infused with the brilliant synth-heavy score of the ’80s B-flick Day of the Dead and is, like “5/4,” a rocking reminder of what Blur’s 13 could have been.
Del brings his old-school rap meets quasi-spiritual rhymes to the horny hip-pop number “Rock the House” and the lead single, “Clint Eastwood.” (A flashy two-step remix of the latter track can be found at the end of the album as well). Most of Gorillaz comes off as a beautiful sonic experiment, deftly blending dub, hip-hop, and good ol’ fashioned rock n’ roll. “Sound Check (Gravity)” lays bulky hip-hop beats and Albarn’s distorted (and often incomprehensible) vocals over subtle strings and haunting keyboards, while “Punk” is a faithful ode to Clash-era punk rock. “19-2000” is the perfect summer song from a near-perfect summer album, with balmy lyrics to suit: “Keep a mild groove on…Get the cool shoeshine.” Not bad for a band that doesn’t even exist.