Gorillaz

The Now Now

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It's not an unusual move for Gorillaz, releasing a brief, breezy record swiftly on the heels of a magnum opus. The Fall followed Plastic Beach by a matter of 13 months, but that 2011 record was deliberately positioned as an afterthought, promoted as being written and recorded on the road and initially released to the cartoon band's fan club. The Now Now, delivered a mere 14 months after Humanz, echoes The Fall, particularly in how nearly half of its songs carry titles that salute the presumed place of their composition, but this is quite a different beast than any previous Gorillaz album. Recorded in February 2018 so the group could have new material to play on the festival circuit that year, The Now Now by design has fewer collaborators than Humanz, the record Damon Albarn toiled over for the better part of a decade. Shortened sessions mean that only a handful of guests are on this album -- Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle pop up on "Hollywood," George Benson graces "Humility" with his breezy guitar -- which, in turn, pushes the spotlight directly upon Albarn himself. More than ever, Gorillaz seems like a solo Albarn project wearing a cartoon mask. Apart from several welcome hits of early-'80s new wave and yacht soul, much of The Now Now circles the same moody drain that characterized Everyday Robots, which is the only pop album he's released under his own name. A melancholy strain runs through Albarn's 21st century work and it's the glue that binds The Now Now, turning the record into the perhaps inevitable hangover to Humanz. Where that overstuffed record played like a moment of defiance in a dark time, The Now Now finds Albarn turning inward, finding solace in old sounds -- particularly disco and old school hip-hop -- while musing about the darker winds that blow outside of his door. Perhaps this doesn't make for a listen that's as wild or adventurous as its companion, but it's ultimately more satisfying, as the internal journey mirrors the evolution of the pop landscape in the 21st century. What was once a rowdy, colorful party is now a soundtrack for bittersweet solitude.

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