Most of you know who they are. If not, I’m sure you probably like a couple of their songs. “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.” remain staples of our culture and their many landmark albums such as Demon Days, Plastic Beach, and their self-titled are considered being some of the best records of the past 20 years.
Now, they’re back with their seventh album, Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez.
Well, technically, it’s not their seventh album; we think it’s a compilation? We’re not sure, honestly. Damon Albarn, the brain behind the group’s music, remains confusing in interviews on the topic.
Here’s what we know: this is the soundtrack to the new audiovisual project of Jamie Hewlett, who is the artistic mastermind of Gorillaz. Each episode is a standalone music video where Gorillaz interacts with the featured guest on the song (naturally, wacky hijinks ensue).
While it makes little sense though that album is being released before the season is done, that’s aside from the point.
This is an interesting departure for the band, it is the most “mainstream” the band has ever gone, using big showy hooks, sounds that switch from frantic 80s hyper-pop to trap to “wavey” electro-pop, and a lot of auto-tune.
The feature list has gotten way bigger too, which will definitely alienate a lot of their fans. It’s even bigger than their 2017 album, Humanz, which is often criticized for its extensive use of features. (I still think Humanz is one of the more underappreciated albums released over the last decade, but I digress.)
Song Machine pulls off its aesthetic well. Very well, in fact.
The record is fun-feeling, which is something that Gorillaz rarely goes for; there is an underlying darkness to them that clouds up the atmosphere. This one is pure balls to the walls fun. Damon vibes out with soul singer Lee John on “The Lost Chord” and parties with Beck on “The Valley Of The Pagans.”
“Pagans” in particular sounds like an old school Beck song for 2020. This happens a lot on this record — Damon seems to update some older and more established guests into the new millennium. This has mixed results.
While bringing some dance to Robert Smith’s Cure-type lyricism on the title track, “Strange Timez” is a highlight of the album, the throwback 80s slow jam with Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook on “Aries” comes out as a cheap imitation.
Like most pop albums, the singles are the highlights: “PAC-MAN”, “The Pink Phantom”, “Désolé” and “Friday 13th” standout. But there are plenty of deep cuts for all your album-centric fans to get a kick out, like the chaotic trap-pop “Dead Butterflies” where Damon auto-croons in auto-tune, sounding more other worldly than he ever has before. The creepy indie-dub fusion in “Simplicity” and the chaotic raves of “Opium” and “Severed Head” are all great. (Sadly, I cannot say any of the other bonus tracks on disc two are worth it.)
Song Machine is a disjointed record. Yet, it works very well in its lack of solid structure. I would definitely recommend giving it as many spins as you please, and maybe even making playlists of the songs you like and making your own sequence. Hell, the band is even encouraging that, selling cassette tapes with different sequences that match each of the cartoon band member’s personalities.
Now one could say this is lazy. That Gorillaz, a band that to its fans are definitely an album band, took a bit of a misstep. But how an album can exist in a digital age and if an album truly matters anyway is what we aren’t debating right now.
Song Machine Season One: Strange Timez is a fun listen. Turn off your mind and let yourself have fun with it. With the “Strange Timez” we live in, let this be a fun distraction!
TPZ Album Rating: 7
Editor’s Note: Super Jack was given a special press copy of the record, hence why this is dropping early.