Album Review Gorillaz - The Singles Collection

These songs are about as wonderful as pop gets.

Do you need this album? It’s a tricky one. There’s probably nothing you’ve not heard and singles collections are, by definition, ephemeral pollution, unnecessary cash-ins adding to the already perilous state of It’s All Too Much. If Gorillaz truly are finished then this leaves a weaker legacy then any of the albums proper, which were considered and thematic, especially ‘Demon Days’ which remains the standard all Gorillaz output shall be judged by. But, but… this is Damon Albarn, so different rules apply. Whatever you might think of the man (and this is totally written with heart shaped eyes) and his crazed megalomania-charged ambition, you can’t deny that he’s been blessed by Pop. So, rather than worry too much about the theory of a singles album (will just knock a couple of marks out of ten off for it), let’s just think about pop songs and whisper sweet-nothings at Damon.

A couple of months ago I was in a Paris zoo. There were myriad wonderful creatures; red pandas, red pandas that were black, a yak, this creature which was like a donkey but much bigger and hairier and glummer and wiser, and also there was this orangutan (Boom. Yes, there’s yr orangutan, monkey, Gorillaz link. I know, I know). This ginger lovely, called Nénette, was mostly just monkeying around, giving it the whole King of the Swingers schtick; an armpit tickle here, a play on the tyres there. Then she went and broke our rubbish human hearts. That orangutan asked us to clap her. “Please love me”, she said, “please understand I’m more than this”. Not with spoken words, she wasn’t, like, magic or anything, but instead Nénette asked with her giant sad eyes. She started the applause herself, slumped her shoulders when no-one joined in and flashed the biggest, most grateful, primate smile when people eventually started clapping. That orangutan was good when she was just entertaining and fooling around, but when she was melancholic, broken and despairing she was soulful, she became – prepare for the anthropomorphism to go full tilt – almost human.

The parallels I’m shooting for here are embarrassingly obvious; Gorillaz are always great, always entertaining – this collection doesn’t have a weak track on it and God, those trumpets on ‘Rock The House’ just entirely rule - but there’s also another side to them. Get away from the cartoons, away from the dazzling array of guest stars, away from the image of Shaun Ryder’s bloated boatrace and you find the thing that made them pretty special. There’s a gentle humanity at play here, and these are the moments that get to your heart as well as to those glorious dancing feet of yours.

That mix of partyparty and wide-eyed dolefulness has always been there; take ‘Clint Eastwood’ when, amongst Del the Funky Homosapien’s inspired bluster’n’brag, there was always Damon crooning prettily away – and Damon’s voice has never been sweeter than when in 2D mode – about not being happy, about feeling glad. And when he’s singing that, when he’s doing that pretty croon it breaks our rubbish human hearts.

‘Clint Eastwood’ was probably only ever bettered by one Gorillaz moment; ‘Feel Good Inc’ was the track that got everything right, the video was gorgeous, vast and stunning, De La Soul were brilliantly unhinged and, again, Damon; all mesmerising and forlorn, detailing a “melancholy town where we never smile”. Later, during ‘On Melancholy Hill’ – there’s a lot of ‘melancholy’ huh? - we get some of the most tender and straightforward lyrics imaginable; ”You are my medicine when you’re close to me’ is so good, pitched so perfectly between desolate and joyful, just so, y’know, ‘aaaaaah’.

For a project that Albarn initially insisted was Dan The Automator’s thing which he was just helping out with, Gorillaz became all-conquering, became a touchstone for creativity and imagination. Pop theorists could have hours of fun with the notions of identity behind Jamie Hewlett’s astonishing imagery, but we’re not pop theorists, we’re pop fans, and these songs, these songs are about as wonderful as pop gets.


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