This may be a case where ignorance truly is bliss. I first noticed Gorillaz when the clever animated video for their über-catchy first single, •Clint Eastwood,• started getting airplay. Not only did the song catch my interest, but the art style on the video•s animation looked strangely familiar. Anxious to discover who was behind it, I did some research using our friend, the Internet, and uncovered some interesting facts. First of all, the art was by Tank Girl co-creator Jamie Hewlett (my first guess was Evan Dorkin — they do have similar styles). Second (and more importantly) was the fact that the cartoon figures in the video were actually the •band!• Spacy keyboardist/singer 2-D, spooky bassist Murdoc, drummer/rapper Russel, and ten-year-old guitarist/martial arts master Noodle make up the world•s first virtual hip-hop collective, and perform all of their concerts as animated characters on video screens. Pay no attention to the men and women behind the curtain, whose identities were revealed with a little further research: along with Hewlett, the Gorillaz masterminds are Dan •The Automator• Nakamura, Damon Albarn of Blur, Kid Koala, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Tom Tom Club•s Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth, and Cibo Matto•s Miho Hatori. Hearing all these names filled me with visions of a truly mindblowing record, which is why ignorance may have been bliss.
See, Gorillaz is a good record. A really good record, in fact. But it didn•t immediately meet the (unfairly) high expectations I•d set for it. Part of this feeling is that the record took a few listens to grow on me — over time, the beats got my head nodding while the grooves and hooks worked their way into my skull, and with each listen, my estimation of the disc•s quality rose exponentially. But largely, the issue was my own unfair expectations, my own idea of what this record would sound like based on the names involved. Had I not known who was involved, I might be raving over what an impressive debut this is, but knowing what I knew, I found myself initially underwhelmed. In fact, it wasn•t unil I actually sat down to write these words that I•d decided I actually do like the album. This is wholly unfair to the material, of course, which should be judged on its own merits (and I assume the desire for it to be judged on its own merits is part of the reason they•re taking the whole •Archies for the new millennium• tack to begin with). There•s some really good stuff here, including such highlights as the funky •Re-Hash,• the extremely catchy •5/4,• the moody •New Genious (Brother),• the angular •Punk,• the •60s electronica vibe of •Rock The House,• and of course, that first single, •Clint Eastwood• (maybe the album•s best track). Moreover, the album succeeds as a cohsive whole, and there aren•t any real missteps here — it•s a solid record with no •bad• songs.
But balancing all that against what I wanted the record to be, in my imagination, just hasn•t matched up — yet (as I said, my estimation of this record grows with every listen, so a few more spins may completely change my tune). I strongly considered not revealing the project•s principals in this review to preserve the illusion, and come at Gorillaz as a whole new group, but decided that would be a less than honest assessment. What I•ll say instead is that this is a really good record that deserves your attention — just check your expectations at the door. If you can come into this record without any preconceived notions, I think you•ll enjoy it all the more. But you should enjoy it under any circumstances, and my somewhat lukewarm review shouldn•t be taken as a criticism of anything more than my own unfair expectations. Pick this up, and really listen to it, with undivided attention, and more than once. You should find that it gets better and better every time you listen to it, especially if you really pay attention.