Gorillaz – The Fall (Album Review)

Gorillaz – The Fall

The world’s most successful animated band appear to be suffering from musical differences, their identity wavering. Let’s hope the name of their latest album isn’t an omen for the future…

Somewhere in one of those thousands of Beatles documentaries from the Abbey Road era, there is a clip of happy-go-lucky Ringo sitting at the mixing desk in studio one. “I don’t know how any of this works”, he explains, gesturing at the console. “We have a man that comes in, pulls some levers, and a guitar turns into a piano”. Musicians’ relationship with the technology of record production has changed somewhat since then, and Damon Albarn’s latest release as cartoon electro-popsters The Gorillaz is a perfect example.

The Fall was created entirely on Albarn’s Apple iPad while on the American leg of the the band’s latest tour. Less adventurous than last release Plastic Beach, and missing the long list of guest artists, the album has a lonesome quality to it. “I suddenly found myself in a position where I could make quite a sonically sophisticated record in my hotel room”, the former Blur man explained in a New Zealand radio interview. The suspiciously rampant Apple association isn’t the only marketing quirk The Fall has going for it; the album was released digitally, in full and for free, on Christmas day; a similar approach to the release of Radiohead’s In Rainbows.

Opening track Phoner to Arizona lays out the iPad formula (808 drums, basic synths) with a squelching march; only a mildly interesting start, and a surprise selection for the album’s first single. A couple of pleasing acoustic guitar-led tracks follow, with Revolving Doors finding a non-effected Albarn in a wistful mood, sitting in diners and observing foggy days. The incessant rhythms of Detroit start promisingly, but its short 2-minute length indicates it was an idea that failed to materialise fully, perhaps a good representation of the album as a whole. Potential is again demonstrated on Little Plastic Bags – a great example of what this album could have been. Here the hypnotism of slow yet determined 808s and eerie keys swim around Albarn’s harmonies as he plays with a repeated phrase of “little pink plastic bags, blowing on a highway alone”. The album has little more to offer however, with often promising ideas falling flat for a variety of reasons, whether it’s the faux-dubstep bassline of The Joplin Spider, or the Anticon-style stuttering beats of The Snake in Dallas torn apart by a noodling G-funk lead line. The Speak it Mountains, with steve reich-esque phrase phasing and atmospheric pads is conceptual. However, it appears that the concept is uninspiring boredom. Even former Clash man Paul Simonon can’t liven up Aspen Forest, a track that appears to feature a rhythmic element formed from mobile-phone-near-a-speaker-interference. Bobby in Phoenix features soulman Bobby Womak crooning about, well, Phoenix over more wobbly sine waves, but by this point the album is approaching irredeemable status.

The Fall has a place in Albarn’s cannon, but the witty and refreshing nature of early Gorrilaz that so endeared them to the public is missing, replaced with a lonely DIY ethic that is more Do It By Yourself than Do It Yourself.

The Fall was created using these iPad applications:

Speak It! / SoundyThingie / Mugician / Solo Synth / Synth / Funk Box / Gliss / AmpliTube / Xenon / iElectribe / BS-16i / M3000 HD / Cleartune / iOrgel HD / Olsynth / StudioMiniXI / BassLine / Harmonizer / Dub Siren Pro / Moog Filatron


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