Written by Carmen Mueller
Last year, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett ended their seven year hiatus to bring us their record Humanz, but it seems that they have not let that fire die down. Only a year later and the duo have already released their sixth studio album titled The Now Now. For fans like myself, Humanz was quite a departure from the usual Gorillaz sound. Sure, the electronic vibes and unique production has been a staple for the band; however, the album took on a more trap and hip hop inspired sound. Due to the inclusion of rappers, Damon Albarn’s iconic 2D sort of took a back seat when it came to the vocals. If you were missing his presence on the last album, then I am pleased to say that this project makes 2D a major focus.
The album begins with “Humilty” (feat. George Benson) which caused major buzz when the music video for the single dropped, especially because Jack Black is playing a guitar while 2D rollerblades on the boardwalk. Besides the interesting video, the song itself is a departure from the direction Humanz took last year. This track features a super tropical sound with light guitars and piercing production. The lyrics as well follow a different storyline: instead of the politically driven Humanz, “Humility” is about wanting to do away with isolating feelings. There is a yearning for connection and getting back to the way things once were.
“Tranz” is a techno lover’s dream; the psychedelic production ties in nicely with the tripped out lyrics in the song. It makes sense for your head to feel like it’s empty or for your emotions to be shot after a Saturday night filled with mayhem and poor decisions. While the music is danceable and fun, the lyrics almost give it a sinister feeling with lines like “do you burn like me?” and “do you dance like this forever?” It’s the perfect example of a happy song with a sad message, which is an avenue that is not new for Gorillaz.
Returning for features are Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle on “Hollywood”. Unsurprisingly, the theme is Hollywood and the lifestyle that surrounds the city. Bravado, determination, and confidence are necessary to survive the allure. This is a danceable track that benefits from having Snoop Dogg rapping and Principle and Albarn’s voices, allowing it to genre-bend between alternative and hip hop.
Drowsy basslines drive “Kansas” as does Albarn as 2D once again as the main vocalist. Like the opening track “Humility”, there is a certain vulnerability and pain that is coming across in this song. He questions his incapability to heal and to find his way back home; yet, he continues to stumble along in hopes of finding where he belongs. It’s an incredibly somber tune but the music gives the feeling that this mindset is more so a passing doubt rather than a paralyzing fear.
“Sorcererz” is guitar driven and provides a similar sound to their Plastic Beach days. 2D on this track sings about trying to remain grounded and focused. A lot of obstacles are coming, but it’s important to remain calm and true to yourself and your wishes.
Gorillaz takes a little break from the intense electronic production on this track and instead have a whirring synth and guitar sound instead. The change in pace works perfectly for “Idaho” since it focuses on reconnecting to the world after being surrounded by technology all the time. Being a musician can be super taxing, but being able to look towards the physical world after losing hope can be healing.
“Lake Zurich” was the second single dropped by the band and it was what probably surprised me the most. The song is pure ear candy and reminds me of the vibes “Andromeda” had on Humanz. The only voice that comes through is a murmuring 2D in the background, but the drum driven beat and fun percussions make this song really stand out sonically out of the rest.
“Magic City” has a similar message as “Hollywood” but it has a far less bitter tone. Albarn is recounting all of the magical benefits this sort of city has on him, while also recognizing that at some point he will want to escape. This track is also far more mystical sounding, almost like he is dazed by the effect of his surroundings rather than cynical about his circumstances.
When “Fire Flies” started playing, I yelled out loud in excitement because the beat is different from the tracks leading up to this. It has a strong R&B base that reminds me of Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” single. It gives it an old time groove with an operatic vibe that’s super unexpected but works really well with 2D’s vocals.
“One Percent” is a rather short track that focuses many on the music; it has a sonic essence that makes it sound like what I can only describe as if NASA had a Spotify playlist. It’s otherworldly, while the lyrics bring it back down to Earth; they are noticing the world from a low lake, enjoying a summer day as they try to understand the world they live in. It’s a really beautiful introspective song.
Last on the album is “Souk Eye” and it finishes off the album by connecting to the rest of the album. Musically, it once again has a tropical vibe like the album’s opening track, while lyrically, it touches on subjects already mentioned in “Hollywood” and “Magic City”. 2D sings of wanting to be with LA for a long time even if he eventually leaves. This could be a shout out to the journey the Gorillaz have had. They had a steady release of albums years ago, took an impressive hiatus, then came back with two records.
The song ends with “I always think about you, that’s why I’m calling you back, ‘cause I got to run soon”. Hopefully this does not mean that the band plans to leave again, because as a long-time fan, I’ve enjoyed seeing them speak on issues of today. They continuously show how flexible they can be with their music; Humanz was far more hip hop inspired while The Now Now plays off of sounds they have exhibited in the past. Regardless of where the band goes from here, I know that I can always revisit their past work and never get bored, because their material is all so versatile. That’s one of the band’s greatest strengths; they have something for everyone and are not afraid of taking risks. If you miss old school Gorillaz, this album is a modern twist on their classic sound. This album is filled with 2D, electronic bops, and impressive production which is something that I think a lot of people can get on board with. I know that I really enjoyed it, and I think others will as well. Hopefully Murdoc will be around for the next project though, but we can never be too sure about him!