Well you can’t get what you want but you can get me
So let’s set up and see
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‘Cause you are my medicine when you’re close to me
When you’re close to me
— On Melancholy Hill, Gorillaz
‘Genius’ is a term that’s bandied around far too often nowadays but…Damon Albarn is a musical genius.
The singer with Britpop goliaths Blur decided to try something different way back in 1998. He and comic book artist mate Jamie Hewlett thought it’d be fun to invent a fictional cartoon band and recruit various talented musicians to record some songs. Gorillaz was born. Four animated characters — singer/keyboardist 2D, bassist Murdoc, guitarist Noodle and drummer Russel Hobbs with rock ‘n’ roll Hewlett-penned back stories — would deal with all that pesky promotional business while Albarn and a series of musical collaborators got on with making music.
First single Clint Eastwood arrived in early 2001 and even now it’s hard to forget what a radical change in direction this was for Albarn. This fantastic melding of hip-hop, rap (courtesy of Del Tha Funkee Homosapien) and spaghetti western soundtracks (the main “I’ve got sunshine in a bag” lyrical refrain is a quote from the movie The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) was a revelation considering nothing in Blur’s career to that point had suggested Albarn’s worldview could be so all-encompassing.
Four albums followed and the innovation continued — 2010’s low-key The Fall set was the first commercially available album recorded solely on an iPad — with Gorillaz ultimately proving to be more of a global success than even Blur. Live tours followed with band members playing behind large projections of the four virtual Gorillaz characters in a spectacle more exciting than many “real” bands’ stage shows.
The Singles Collection 2001-2010 is a good gateway to Gorillaz’ music or a nice way to recall all their greatest hits. It collects most of the ever-changing band’s singles and throws in a couple of remixes to give a fantastic overview of the project’s overall success.
Considering collaborators have included *deep breath* Danger Mouse, Ibrahim Ferrer (Buena Vista Social Club), Del the Funkee Homosapien, De La Soul, Bobby Womack, Ike Turner, Lou Reed, Mark E Smith (The Fall), Bootie Brown (The Pharcyde), Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), Snoop Dogg, Dan The Automator, Mos Def, D12, MF Doom, Shaun Ryder (Happy Mondays) and Neneh Cherry *phew* it’s astounding how well the overall vision hangs together. Albarn is a musical genius who obviously also has a firm grip on how to make collaborations work for the greater feel-good good.
The more high-profile hits like the none-more-poppy Feel Good Inc, roller coaster 19-2000, slurry surging sounds of DARE and crunchy rap/soul of Stylo are brilliantly complemented with some lesser known gems including top-tapping trumpet fest Rock The House, skittishly downbeat El Manana and the R&B-tinged Doncamatic.
Ultimately, underneath all the high-class production sheen and neat pop tricks it’s the quality of Albarn’s songwriting that makes Gorillaz shine. There’s still mileage left in Gorillaz with the catchy yet aptly wistful On Melancholy Hill the high-point of Gorillaz’ output ten years into their career. How many groups can make that claim?
Let the sunshine out of the bag and make this the soundtrack of your summer.