Secret Meeting score: 77
by Philip Moss
Whenever you think about Gorillaz albums, one of a few things probably comes to mind. Firstly, how does Damon Albarn find the time? Closely followed by the fact that they’re usually quite long winded affairs (every record, thus far, has been at least fifteen tracks long), and that they’re typically jam packed with an array of musical legends doing guest turns.
So, before the needle even drops on their new album – the band’s second in two years, following last year’s Humanz – there’s clearly some changes afoot. Yes, the question about Damon managing to churn out so much quality music still prods, but The Now Now is only eleven tracks in length and only two of its songs feature a support cast.
Opener, Humility, is one of those tunes – and it benefits hugely from the sunshine flickered licks of American jazz guitarist, George Benson, who adds even more colour to an already rainbow filled melody. The kind that only Damon Albarn could write. But in sharp contrast to the poptastic backing track – helmed by producer, James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Depeche Mode, Florence & The Machine) – Albarn sings from a place of deep set loneliness, with a lyric that could quite conceivably be lifted from his brilliant 2014 solo record, Everyday Robots – ‘Calling the world from isolation, ’cause right now, that’s the ball where we be chained’.
Much of The Now Now was completed while on tour in the US, and a number of the record’s titles take their names, one presumes, from the places they were conceived – including Lake Zurich and Kansas – or the cable show that drifted into his hotel suite while writing- Magic City. But it’s the stunning Idaho that is the most overtly sensitive Albarn has ever sounded under the Gorillaz monkier- ‘I landed on the silver lake, Washed up and feeling blue… Idaho, Idaho, There’s a beauty on the road / And everyday I look out of the bus / Silver linings getting lost’, as the all consuming road movie of touring plays out both mentally and physically for the now 50 year old musician.
Once the only other guest spots – from West Coast rapper, Snoop Dogg, and Chicago House pioneer, Jamie Principle – have slipped by on Hollywood, it’s Albarn’s aforementioned solo record that The Now Now again most texturally resembles from his vast back catalogue. One Percent has beautifully double tracked vocals that bobble over a woven, soundscape backdrop, while closer Souk Eye juxtaposes fingerpicked guitars against toy synths, glittering glocks, fuzz bass and shuffling drum machines that are vastly different to anything else that’s appeared in the Gorillaz back catalogue.
Now, it must be said, The Now Now is by no means the best record Damon has ever released – nowhere near. But, like almost everything he puts his name to, there’s definitely enough layers to peel back that will ensure this is a record that’s more than deserving of repeat listens.