Great music can be inspired in all sorts of unlikely ways. Michael Jackson claimed much of his schtick was owed to the work of silent movie icon Charlie Chaplin. Thom Yorke frequently cites linguist and media critic Noam Chomsky as inspiration behind Radiohead’s lyrical themes.
The Now Now, by Gorillaz, was inspired because Damon Albarn wanted to bash out a few quick songs while on tour last year, so he had something new to play at festivals this summer.
And, you know what – it shows.
Let’s be totally upfront about the fact the only really good song here is opener ‘Humility’. Albarn has said in interviews that The Now Now is a “summery” record, and indeed ‘Humility’ is a spot-on soundtrack to the heatwave currently blazing outside my window. George Benson's twinkly blues guitar chops. Lovely. Jack Black mugging off in the video. Wooo, summer.
Beyond that, it’s all just a bit… half-baked. Albarn’s idealistic vision – that he could just set up his recording gear in whatever hotel or tourbus he found himself hanging out in at any given moment and knock out a Gorillaz-worthy classic – doesn’t quite work.
Alright, sometimes it works, more or less. ‘Hollywood’, for instance, was made in a suite on the top floor of the Los Angeles Mondrian Hotel (hence the title, innit). Those boomy, pulsing, liquid synths should help it stay on mainstream radio until the kids go back to school – thanks largely to Snoop Dogg, who keeps this show on the road with tried-and-true PG-rated sixteen bar sleaze.
‘Idaho’ is nice, written from the tourbus – a sweet, poetic slice of classic Albarn picture-painting about elks and silver lakes and rainbows.
‘Lake Zurich’ – another place-based number, you’re getting the idea now – sort of sums up the overall malaise. It’s a FUCKING CRACKING groove, crying out for a hooky vocal line. Where the hell is, I dunno, Pharrell, or Florence, or St Vincent, or Lily Allen? Everything about the backing track screams ‘BIG HIT OF THE SUMMER’ but nah, can’t be arsed, bish bash bosh, back on the bus, next city, next song.
Producer-of-the-moment James Ford (him off the new Arctic Monkeys record) has tried valiantly to whip these sketchy doodles into some sort of presentable order. Albarn, indeed, is already accusing Ford in the press of being the “sense police”, for outrageously encouraging the ex-Blur genius to find a logical through line to his lyrics.
Whether or not that made much of a difference is impossible to say, but all too often the solution to a threadbare couplet or naff chord sequence is ADD MORE SYNTH, especially on Miami dreamscape ‘Magic City’ or oomph-less whinge ‘Kansas’.
Look, I bloody love Damon Albarn, and have slavishly followed his every move since I was a child – that’s probably why I’m so nonplussed here. His songs and ideas and delivery and overall vision are still head-and-shoulders above most other acts.
But if we agree that Gorillaz, at their sparkling best, are a fully-realised, postmodern, three-dimensional work of groundbreaking concept art, why does so much of this record feel like it was dreamed up on the back of an envelope?
Because, pretty much, it was.