An A-List companion to modern hysteria
Hannah Browne
21:46 17th October 2020

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Once again disrupting the paradigm and breaking convention, Gorillaz present Song Machine Season One: Strange Timez, the first album from their ever-evolving collection of singles and music videos, dubbed as ‘episodes’. The appropriateness of coining ‘Strange Timez’ at this moment doesn’t need an explanation, but Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s cartoon crew have always excelled at a particular brand of dystopia that feels all-too suitable for this year. 

There is perhaps no better time than now for Gorillaz. Upon the release of their self-titled debut album in 2001, it became apparent that the innovative yet far-fetched concept was a musical product with no boundary of genre. 

From hip hop to indie, Gorillaz rely on a hardy formula: pop-up every couple of years with an album ladened with savvy guests and an Armageddon vibe that fits whatever catastrophe is dominating the headlines. Election discontent? Recession? A global pandemic? Gorillaz probably have a song for that.

Song Machine demonstrates the pros and cons of Albarn’s musical restlessness. As usual, the guestlist promises a myriad of sounds, genres, styles and attitudes from collaborators including Robert Smith, Beck, Leee John, Schoolboy Q, St Vincent, Elton John, 6LACK, Peter Hook, Slowthai, Slaves, Octavian and Fatoumata Diawara. As a result, the album mostly feels like a playlist, with each guest attempting to prove their worth in Gorillaz’ universe. 

No matter the revolving cast, a few tracks occasionally struggle to regulate Albarn’s swarming brainstorm. In an unusual collaboration, ‘The Pink Phantom’ (ft Elton John, and 6LACK) stews lacklustre synth patches, gloomy keys and muttered vocals and unfortunately misses the mark. Despite this, Song Machine does manage to nurture its own brand of charm throughout its 11 tracks. As they unfasten from the persona that they worked so hard to create, Gorillaz prove that they are masters of masqueraded melancholia – the most obvious example being within ‘Momentary Bliss’, a slow-burning groove which sees noisy boys Slowthai and Slave’s Isaac Holman preserve the dark comedy of Gorillaz’ personality.

In the end, Song Machine feels like we’re watching Gorillaz host an A-list party. Fatoumata Diawara cruises through ‘Désolé,’ Peter Hook delivers vintage New Order basslines on ‘Aries’, and Beck settles into a clanging darkwave groove on ‘The Valley of the Pagans’. 

From its beginnings, the album is overwhelmed by possibilities, but it never once suggests a decline of the mind behind it. Ideas are still rising in abundance and are pinned around the magic of rotating personalities. Song Machine Season One: Strange Timez, whilst positioning its four digital members just outside of centre frame, rallies a musical ensemble pulled directly from Alban’s high-profile contact list. It’s a product of matchmaking and fascination; a companion to modern hysteria.

Song Machine arrives 23 October via Parlophone. 

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Photo: Press