Sure there are concept albums that have cemented themselves amongst rock and roll lore. Tommy, Quadrophenia and The Wall are a few of those recordings that immediately spring to mind. But what about concept bands? Gorillaz, the creation of Blur frontman Damon Albarn and cult illustrator Jamie Hewlet, is a cartoon four piece composed of brash musicians that despite their fictional front, possess unyielding powers that generates fresh cuts of hip-hop, dub, reggae and punk.
Featuring the cartoon characters of Murdoc, 2D, Russel and Noodle, Gorillaz broke onto the scene in late 2000 and was conceived as the first “virtual hip hop group. ” Their initial dent was the Tomorrow Comes Today EP in late 2000, which was followed by the “Clint Eastwood” single, later to spawn their self titled debut in the spring of 2001. Collaborators in the band’s early days were Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori, Tom Tom Club’s Tina Weymouth, Kid Koala and Del The Funky Homosapien.
With their latest release Demon Days, Gorillaz has returned with their long-awaited follow-up album that was three years in the making. In Metallica or Guns N Roses terms, three years is a picnic, but for Gorillaz, an immediate follow-up should have been predictable, given today’s world of hot today, cold tomorrow. Film offers came in, but were later rejected as the band members went their separate ways. “When it came to starting work on the new album it was important that we should do something that wasn’t rushed or simply relative to the success of the first album,” says Noodle during a band discussion. “We would have to focus our arrows, and that is something that requires consideration and…time.”
Noodle, ever the focused one, returned to Kong Studios first and the others soon followed six months later. Their studio, which was once a plush facility, had turned into a haunted decrepit hole filled with blood, guts and Zombie infestation. This didn’t hinder the young Noodle who wrote most of the album herself. “Before the other Gorillaz members arrived back I was all alone In Kong Studios for maybe six months, ” reflects Noodle. “It was during this period that I began to outline tracks for the album. Initially I thought it would be in preparation for the others to return, that when they got back we would all work on the songs together. Back as time moved on it became obvious that I had to complete these visions myself.”
Mission accomplished as Demon Days proved to push musical genres in a fresh direction. Noodle started writing around March of 2004 on her Tascam four track. Soon the songs began to take shape and blossom with personalities of their own. The animate video for “Feel Good Inc.” was debuted at the South By Southwest Music Conference’s Gorillaz invitation only listening party and ears took immediate notice. It wasn’t soon before Steve Jobs and Apple selected “Feel Good Inc.” to be the next “Vertigo” and star in a clever iPod commercial. “Demon Days is more focused and considered than the first album. Maybe it has a greater gravity to it than the first record where we were still kinda learning the ropes,” mentions Russel. 2D later ads, “like someone has taken the first album and coloured it in.”
With a shady new cast of role players assembled that permeate from hip-hop’s past and present ( Ike Turner, De La Soul, Neneh Cherry, MF Doom) Gorillaz is painting new songs with the colors of old. Gorillaz has recently confirmed details for an innovative virtual U.S. tour. Named the Demon Detour, this will be the most most extensive U.S. “visit” by the group and performances will be streamed via the Web sites of 39 U.S. radio stations.
As for what they’ve learned from their Gorillaz experiences so far, 2D gets about as philosophical as his wrought lyrics in “Clint Eastwood,” where he sings, “I ain’t happy, I’m feeling glad/I got sunshine, in a bag/useless,but not for long/The future is coming on.
With a humble shrug 2D summons, “Yes er…don’t take it all too…no, wait a minute…er, you should always think ab….no that’s wrong. No. actually I don’t think I have learnt …anything. That’s a lesson in itself.”
Concept bands, just like concept albums, you either love em or hate em.
Satan loving bass player who started Gorillaz and holds a passion for the bottle. Negotiations for Demon Days were held in the prison showers, where Murdoc was doing time for writing bad checks at a Mexican whorehouse. The prospect of a fat advance check got Murdoc back to Gorillaz thinking.
Lead singer/keyboardist known as the good-natured pretty-boy, who is in a constant battle with Murdoc’s bullying. In between albums, he spent time as a Carny, working a carousel ride and rediscovering his ego. 2D would soon discover that the Gorillaz success was truly because of him and nobody else.
Hip-hopper turned drummer who is street-smart, but has tragically lost his share of friends. Russel was working on creating Seventh Heaven Hip-Hop & Harmon, the most ambitious hip-hop album of it’s kind. Believing the album was causing freak vibrations, it would soon get shelved.
Ten year old Japanese guitar prodigy. With no prior remembrance of her past, Noodle returned to Japan to discover she is one of 23 kids trained as part of an elite military team, each to possess individual skills. Noodle was taught as a musician and guitar was to become her weapon of choice.
Behind The Music
Role – Gorillaz Artist and Co-Creator
Alias – Cult illustrator who invented the punk pin-up cartoon Tank Girl. Sells limited edition prints of the Gorillaz as a side gig.
Role – Gorillaz Co-Creator
Alias – Lead singer of Britpop act Blur, and is still waiting for former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon to pick up the phone.
Role – Gorillaz Co-Producer
Alias – Remixing the vocals from Jay-Z’s ,The Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album to create The Grey Album. Taking over the role of the departed Dan “The Automator” Nakamura
Behind The Music
Featured Track – Kids With Guns
Claim To Fame – Favorite of MTV’s downtown Julie Brown and Club MTV with 1989’s “Buffalo Stance”
Featured Track – Dirty Harry
Claim To Fame – Member of influential alternative rap quartet from South Central Los Angeles – the Pharcyde.
De La Soul
Featured Track – Feel Good Inc.
Claim To Fame – Innovating the jazz rap style with hints of pop, jazz, reggae, and psychedelia and spawning the hit “Me, Myself & I.”
Featured Track – Every Planet We Reach Is Dead
Claim To Fame – One half of one of rock music’s legendary partnerships with former wife Tina Turner, although probably better remembered for spousal abuse.
Featured Track – November Has Come
Claim To Fame – Underground masked hip hop (“rap”) MC, producer who recently formed the rap cooperative Madvillain.
Featured Track – All Alone
Claim To Fame – Sonically adventurous British hip-hop artist, although firmly rooted in reggae, dub and trip-hop. Broke through with the hit “Witness (I Hope),” off of Run Come Save Me.
Featured Track – All Alone
Claim To Fame – Former musical partner of trip-hop legend Tricky. Her recent solo album,Quixotic, was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.
Featured Track – D.A.R.E.
Claim To Fame – British singer and songwriter who became famous in the “Madchester” era band Happy Mondays. He was the recent focus of a 2004 BBC documentary, entitled Shaun Ryder: The Ecstacy [sic] and the Agony.
Featured Track – Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head
Claim To Fame – Renowned counterculture actor who was once spurned by Hollywood and nearly destroyed by drugs. In 1975, Hopper caused a minor traffic accident in Taos, New Mexico and fled the scene. He was arrested later for the crimes of ‘Reckless Driving’, ‘Leaving the Scene of an Accident’ and ‘Evading Police Officers’.