“You are now entering The Harmonic Realm,” murmurs an otherworldly voice in the intro to ‘Demon Days’, the seminal 2005 album from Damon Albarn’s band of virtual reality cartoon characters. It’s a dark, burgeoning intro of brilliant nonsense - full of sirens and an aura of comic villainy. It’s a bonkers collision; suitably apt for a band made up of “fictional virtual reality members.” Seriously - has anyone taken a step back to think about the fact that these characters have names like 2D and bloody Noodle? Let alone the fact they have backstories almost as diverse and dystopian as the album itself (Noodle’s story of disappearing on a yellow dingy and being replaced by a cyborg for four years is just one ace example).
What follows for the next fifty minutes is the sound of a band tearing up the rulebook of what it means to be - well, a band. Gorillaz could have ended up nothing but a one-off gimmick, forever tied to indie discos playing ‘19-2000’ on repeat. ‘Demon Days’ took that expectation and flipped the bird at it, producing something far lusher and more fully formed than its predecessor. Was it one of the first instances of a viral marketing campaign within music? Most definitely. Did it feature one of the most exciting guest spot rosters of its era? Without a doubt. Almost everything to do with this record was unheard of before, and while it definitely misses the bullseye slightly in places (here’s looking at you, ‘Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head’), it can’t be disputed that ‘Demon Days’ is one of the most fascinating records of the mid-2000s.
‘Demon Days’ somehow breathes naturally without buckling under the weight of its next level collaborators.
The lead up was unprecedented, and completely mad. Pseudo-album titles pushed out through mailing lists (‘Reject False Icons’, anyone?), interactive websites, stunning animated films and even a bloody online talent contest. When you consider all of this was taking place while dial-up internet was still ‘a thing’, it puts it into perspective just how ahead of the time project leader Damon Albarn, his collaborator Jamie Hewlett and their chosen producer Danger Mouse were.
It’s reflective of the music too - like the group’s self-titled debut before it, ‘Demon Days’ manages to be absolutely all over the shop while sounding resolutely coherent. Mainstream pop bangers (see ‘Feel Good Inc’, ‘DARE’), funky, blues-driven melancholy (try ‘O Green World’ and ‘Every Planet We Reach Is Dead’ for size), soul, Latin, jazz… In the end, whether it started off accidentally or not, Gorillaz ended up making a one of the great British hip-hop records.
Like the group’s self-titled debut before it, ‘Demon Days’ manages to be absolutely all over the shop while sounding resolutely coherent.
Which brings us on to those collaborators. Who couldn’t get excited at the prospect of De La Soul, Roots Manuva, MF DOOM and the Pharcyde being on the same bill? Even flippin’ Shaun Ryder and Ike Turner make appearances along the way - just the kind of curveballs you’d expect from Albarn’s team of visually rendered lunatics. The most grin-inducing thing - not only would ‘Demon Days’ be impossible without the lot of ‘em, but Albarn and Danger Mouse gave each and every guest the perfect spot. From DOOM’s incredible, malaise-filled turn on ‘November Has Come,’ to De La Soul’s 90s-nodding appearance on ‘Feel Good Inc’, everyone feels at ease on ‘Demon Days’. It somehow breathes naturally without buckling under the weight of its next level collaborators.
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