The Fall By The Gorillaz
Though hardly a conventional long player, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's virtual band Gorillaz' latest release, The Fall, is many things: it's the latest in the long line of innovative publicity stunts/marketing ploys involving "free-but-not-really-free-albums"--in this case: the album is, until some time next year, purely a digital release, only available for download by members of the Gorillaz Fan Club--undoubtedly a big muscly marketing arm for the band--and only available for perusal by those visitors to thefall.gorillaz.com willing to sign up for the band's mailing list--another arm. The Fall is also an enthusiastic testimony to the peerless versatility and limitless potential of Apple's latest gadget that everyone in the entire universe needs, the iPad, upon which the album was recorded (with the help of a handful of iPad apps, electric instruments and portable synthesizers).
Furthermore, the album is a document of life on the road of a touring band, as it was recorded peripatetically, during the American leg of Gorillaz' Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour--The Fall's painfully cute cover art features Gorillaz' virtual lead singer Stuart "2D" Tusspot sitting in front of a Minimoog synthesizer in what appears to be a hotel room--and its songs in many instances directly address the historical/social/cultural associations of those various Canadian and American cities in which the album's various songs was tracked--for example, on the track "Shy-Town" recorded in Chicago, a voice can be heard to say something like: "...we are in Chicago." Alright, so maybe Albarn and company don't delve all that deeply into the phenomenological essence of being in Chicago or being in "Detroit", but... you know, the songs' titles are often a direct reference to the cities in which they were recorded, which is quaint. Even quainter is the fact that the tracks are sequenced in the order in which they were recorded, between October 3rd and October 30th of this year--with some post-production on the track "Aspen Forest" added on November 3rd.
Initiating the set is the gently weird instrumental, "Phoner to Arizona" (this dialect-specific rhyme is probably more apparent when the phrase is spoken by a Londoner such as Damon Albarn): based around some low-frequency belch-like synth burbles, it drags on for nearly four minutes--the first two of which will undoubtedly be spent in anticipation of a vocal as it doesn't have all that much going on for it instrumentally--but eventually begins to evoke a pleasant sense of disorientation, paving the way for the gentle ukuleles and waiting-room electronica of "Revolving Doors". The introduction of some light synth-timpani and wacky sound effects invoking a duck makes it very clear that this is a quintessential Gorillaz track: Albarn's David Bowie-inspired crooning may fall short of the Thin White Duke's soaring baritone but lends the track a wistful air, as does the general restraint of the aforementioned wackiness.
"HillBilly Man"--featuring the guitar stylings of long-time Gorillaz collaborator Mick Jones, formerly of The Clash--begins in a manner similiar to the previous track and then explodes--sort of--into a comparatively amped-up hip-hop inspired beat, before unleashing a barrage of Gorillaz-brand weirdness: what the track lacks in a melody or structure it--also sort of--makes up for hip ephemera. Another aimless instrumental "Detroit"--recorded in Detroit--makes innovative use of some chopped-up and processed guitar samples while falling back upon boring toy synth voice (specifically those preprogrammed into the Microkorg synthesizer partly used in the making of this album). Perhaps most disappointing (so far) is the undercooked "Shy-town" which is mercifully brief.
"Little Pink Plastic Bag" gets off to a strong start, but never really develops into anything, though Damon Albarn's approximation of Blue Eyed Soul is bizarre enough to make for an unintentionally amusing listen. "The Joplin Spider"--recorded in Joplin, MO of all places--though fascinating in its chaos and insanity, further exemplifies the aimless, meandering quality of most of The Fall's material, as well as the embarrassment of riches provided by the iPad's endless litany of "neat" musical applications: at times it seems that the creative process of a lot of these songs consisted of Damon Albarn sitting around with his iPad saying "look at what you can do with this program!" In other words, the album is overflowing with technological innovations--none of them his own.
Much stronger is the countrified cartoon waltz of "The Parish of Space Dust"--unsurprisingly recorded in Houston--perhaps the one song on the album where function seems to trump form: it is both undeniably a country song and a Gorillaz song; country as filtered through Albarn's psychedelic sensibilities. "The Snake in Dallas", like most of the album's instrumentals, is too light on ideas to sustain the listener's interest for more than a few seconds. "Amarillo"--based around the chord progression of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" but then again what isn't--is fairly decent but repeats itself a bit too much, and is so boring at times that one wishes Albarn would whip out the next cool space age sound he can make with an iPad app.
The bizarre spoken word intro of "The Speak it Mountains" seems to recreate the experience of hallucination-inducing low atmospheric pressure of Denver--where this track was recorded; this is followed by another boring instrumental interlude--this time resembling elevator muzak--in "Aspen Forest"; the scattershot mess that is "Bobby in Phoenix" features a tragically misused soul legend, Bobby Womack, on vocals and guitar. Rounding out the set are "California and the Slipping of the Sun" and "Seattle Yodel," neither of which really materialize into anything but are nevertheless listenable.
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