It started as a one-off “super-group” project between Blur’s Damon Albarn, Dan The Automator, Del The Funky-Homosapien, Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori, and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, but instead blossomed into a cult-classic record. The Gorillaz self-titled magnum-opus caught on like wild-fire, spawning legions of fans, two offshoot discs (G-Sides and Space Monkeys Vs. Gorillaz), and even a DVD release (Celebrity Take Down). So when it was announced that Damon Albarn would release a new Gorillaz album – one that didn’t include contributions from Del, Dan or Miho – people were skeptical on how it would actually hold up. But with new producer DJ Danger Mouse taking over Automator’s slot, and guest rhymes now handled by De La Soul, Del, Bootie Brown of The Pharcyde, and Roots Manuva, suddenly things seemed a bit more interesting.
Rumors suggest that Dan The Automator was only a “co-producer” of Gorillaz, with most of the production chores on the first album being handled by Albarn himself, his absence is definitely felt on the first go-round of Demon Days. While the first album was sort-of a hodge-podge of musical styles, the new record is a more focused, more mature effort. Dan’s trademark sense of humor is gone (no “Rock The House” or “Latin Simone” style silliness here), and instead we get a subtle political message underlying many of the songs, touching upon environmentalist issues (“O Green World”) and the invasion of small third world countries (“Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head”).
But despite Automator’s absence, DJ Danger Mouse does an amazing job of producing a worthy follow-up to the now classic debut. Graduating from indy hip-hop producer/bootleg remixer, Danger Mouse joins music’s elite with Demon Days, crafting lush landscapes for Albarn’s breezy vocals. DM creates a ridiculous beat for “O Green World”, layered with guitars from Simon Tong (The Verve) and layered vocals from Albarn. Equal collaborative quality can be found in “The Last Living Souls”, the dub infused opener that sells the album from the jump; not to mention the post-punk/electroclash-stylings of “White Light”. Among these standout moments, there are beautifully mellow selections on this record that act is the glue that hold it together, such as “Kids With Guns”, “El Manana” and “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead” (with a show-stealing piano solo from Ike Turner).
The infusion of hip-hop on this otherwise rock record is not forgotten, with several well-timed verses inserted at just the right places. The obviously party-propelled and De La Soul featured single, “Feel Good Inc” will inspire a shaken-ass or two (if not, the freestyle throwback “Dare” definitely will). Bootie Brown of The Pharcyde sums up the San Fernandez Youth Chorus’ message in one rejuvenating verse, sounding like he hasn’t missed a step since Bizarre Ride. After Ike Turner’s chaotic climax on “Every Planet…”, MF Doom brings things back down to earth (“November Has Come”), while Roots Manuva holds his own shortly thereafter (“All Alone”), with both verses fusing seamlessly into the overall structure of the rest of the music.
While Demon Days doesn’t top the cult-classic debut, and the somewhat new-style of production from DM may throw listeners for a curve ball, a few consecutive listens to the album reveals a worthy follow-up and overall strong, genre-bending release.
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