Gorillaz's 'The Now Now': Track by track breakdown of what is to come
With just days to go for the new Gorillaz album, here's a track-by-track breakdown of the whole thing, based on the numerous previews we've got so far.
We're just a day away from a huge day for music releases in 2018. June 29 (Friday) will see new albums from the likes of Drake, Florence + The Machine, Ray Davies and of course, the much awaited 'The Now Now', the latest offering from Damon Albarn's virtual primate dub/rock/hip-hop crossover outfit, Gorillaz.
In our piece on what to expect from the album, we'd mentioned how it was uncharacteristic of Gorillaz to head straight into the studio for another album considering they dropped the massive, collaboration-overloaded 'Humanz' just last year, which received lukewarm reception from fans and mixed reviews from critics. Albarn revealed in a previous interview that he went ahead with 'The Now Now' not because he wanted to cash-in quickly, but mainly because it “gives him a reason to go on tour” and display some new material. Whatever be the case, we know so far that the 11-track effort, produced by James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Depeche Mode) and Remi Kabaka, is a much trimmer album than 'Humanz', doing away with the long list of collaborators to instead focus more on Albarn's method to his madness.
We also have a very good idea of what's in store considering Gorillaz have practically given away the whole album beforehand, without caring much for an element of surprise, and I'm absolutely fine by that! Modern marketing gimmicks for album releases can be excruciatingly annoying these days and this is a welcome change. After debuting the Snoop Dogg and Jaimie Principle collaboration 'Hollywood' live in Chile, Gorillaz rolled out a total of five singles - 'Humility (ft. George Benson),' 'Lake Zurich,' 'Sorcererz,' 'Fire Flies' and then officially, 'Hollywood.' Meanwhile, 'Tranz,' 'Souk Eye' and 'Magic City' were premiered live at Germany’s Rock AM Ring festival earlier this month. To top it all off, Albarn and company played the album in its entirety on June 24 at a gig in Japan and live-streamed the whole shebang via the Boiler Room.
So before the album drops and we have a chance to listen to the whole thing with the production sheen that Ford and Kabaka are sure to add, let's take a look at the tracklist of 'The Now Now' and break down the tracks to get a feel of what's to come. We'll do this by piecing together the vast array of previewed material from Gorillaz, including official single releases, concert footage and bootlegs.
'The Now Now' Tracklist:
1. 'Humility' (feat. George Benson)
3. 'Hollywood' (ft. Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle)
7. 'Lake Zurich'
8. 'Magic City'
9. 'Fire Flies'
10. 'One Percent'
11. 'Souk Eye'
1. Humility (feat. George Benson)
The first of the previews was the album opener 'Humility', which features legendary jazz guitarist George Benson, one of only three collaborators on the entire album. As the sonic feel and the accompanying music video (featuring a very cheery Jack Black) showed, the album opener definitely sets us up for a breezy, beachside summer album. "Calling the world from isolation / 'Cause right now, that's the ball where we be chained," Albarn's alter ego 2-D drones, telling us that the lyrics of the album would also be more introspective, something that should anyway naturally follow with the lack of too many collaborators. The sound is a return to Plastic Beach with a breezy synth-pop style that contrasts nicely with Albarn’s grim lyrical concerns. A low-tempo groove driven track, 'Humility' is a track that gets your feet moving and loosens up your shoulders for more to come.
The dissonance between the merry synth-pop groove and the dour lyricism widens on 'Tranz'. As the title suggests, there is a tinge of psychedelia embedded into the sound as well as the theme of the song. Albarn's vocals (at least live in Japan) are instantly reminiscent of Ian Curtis and the sound isn't too far from early Joy Division as well. The song is about 2-D returning from a heavy Saturday night of partying to find himself in a 'Tranz' state. "When you get back on a Saturday night / And your head is caving in / Do you look like me, do you feel like me / Do you turn into your effigy?" the chorus goes before exploding into a full-fledged psychedelic disco experience.
3. Hollywood (ft. Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle)
The first of several passports stamps from the album (Track 4 is 'Kansas', track 6 is 'Idaho') Hollywood is the only other song apart from the album opener 'Humility' that sees a collaboration. This time from rap legend Snoop Dogg and the pioneer of the house genre in USA, Jaimie Principle. At 4 minutes & 53 seconds, it's the longest track on the album, mainly to allow elbow room for collaborators Snoop and Principle to flex their stuff. The song is a love-hate letter to the personification of Hollywood, all her excesses as well as her atrocities. Snoop's guest verse echoes this, but it's definitely far from his best cameos.
The second passport stamp comes in the form of the soon-to-be fan favorite 'Kansas'. Arguably the most accessible and pop-leaning song from the album, 'Kansas' has a simply constructed melody and an even simpler, super catchy chorus. The recurring line "I'm not gonna cry" almost begs to be sung along. The most distinct element of the song, of course, is the bassline, which sounds like it's coming from one of Peter Frampton's talk boxes, only with the bass turned way up!
Bang in the middle of the album comes 'Sorcererz'. The synth assault gets heavier by now, underlined by damp funk rhythms and 2-D's croaky vocals. The song comes across a little like an instruction manual to let go of your worries, but the constant groove of the drum and bassline make it less instruction manual like and more of a yoga teacher at a hippie-filled music festival. "Everybody cool down / Everybody see yourself", "Everybody mining their own inner visions," 2-D sings, giving listeners some time to cool off before the second half of the album.
The third and final ode to a geographical location on the album comes in the form of 'Idaho', which does a complete left turn from the first half of the album. The synths are replaced with jangly, folksy guitars as Albarn and 2-D belt out a pining, crooning love-letter to the state of Idaho. The chorus might tell us a little about the songwriting behind the song: "Idaho, Idaho /There's a beauty on the road / And everyday I look out of the bus / Silver linings getting lost." It appears that Albarn wrote the song on the 'Humanz' tour, probably on the tour bus, something that he's done before. Gorillaz fans will remember the lo-fi surprise album, 2010's 'The Fall', which was entirely recorded on Albarn's iPad while on the road, and comparisons between 'The Now Now' and 'The Fall' are sure to follow, although it's safe to say that 'The Now Now' is definitely a more fully-formed, focused album.
7. 'Lake Zurich'
The brief interlude on Idaho immediately makes way for more funk and more heavy synths on 'Lake Zurich', which was the second single to be previewed from the album. The only instrumental effort on the album, it's a track that's pretty close sonically to French electronic duo Justice. The track could have served as an interlude for the final part of the album but at 4 minutes plus, it's more fully formed with subtle treats thrown into the electronic mix.
8. Magic City
Probably the most morose song of the album 'Magic City' is also the most brooding and introspective. The lyrics blur the lines between Albarn and his alter ego 2-D, as we see a glimpse of a self-aware singer alienated from humanity, aching to come back and join the fun during a time when we've evolved far enough to put a "billboard on the moon".
9. Fire Flies
The talk box like bassline returns on 'Fire Flies', courtesy of Gorillaz's new bassist Ace (who many will remember from the Gang Greene Gang on The Powerpuff Girls). As the story goes, regular bassist, Murdoc Nicols is in jail after getting involved in some sketchy stuff with a kingpin of a crime family! Another low-tempo breezy summer track like the album opener, 'Fire Flies' is a desperate love song of loss, fear and resentment. The line that embodies the song best is the grim warning: "And if you say goodbye too many times / The sentinels will find me and switch me off this time"
10. One Percent
The final part of the album is surely more somber than the poppier first half. The severely stripped-down 'One Percent' falls in line with the mellower tones of the album, the sparse vocals giving way to a melancholic build of eclectic atmospheric sounds. The brooding introspection continues, but while it was earlier hidden underneath a blast of synth-pop, it now lies bare for all to see.
11. 'Souk Eye'
Wrapping up the album with the third consecutive love song, 'Souk Eye' is a curious number that starts off with a skittering beat and soft acoustic guitars over shuffling maracas, but steadily builds into a grandiose romantic number, peppered with twangy synths and a rumbling drum arrangement. Sonically it's pretty far from the breezy album opener 'Humility', and overall, it holds its own as a close to a pretty well-rounded album.
The Verdict: "The Now Now', as the name suggests has a sense of urgency to it, but it is definitely much more well-rounded than Gorillaz's other urgent release 'The Fall'. The sound is closer to 'Plastic Beach' and the album is clearly divided into two halves with the first being more up-tempo and dancier than the latter half. If you're expecting the heydays of 'Demon Days', you'll obviously leave disappointed, but singles like 'Tranz', 'Kansas' and 'Sorcererz' have the potential for some heavy rotation on radio play. All said and done, it's a refreshing change from the bloated 'Humanz' and offers a much trimmer, tighter and more introspective side to Albarn.