Gorillaz’ “Song Machine Episode 1” both hits and misses

Gabriel Farhadian, Staff Writer

British digital rock band Gorillaz released its newest LP “Song Machine Episode 1” on Oct. 23, the followup album to 2018’s “The Now Now.” While “Song Machine Episode 1” contains a few moments of artistic weakness and cliche, the majority of the album’s tracks display Gorillaz’s unique talent for curating a diverse genre palate.

After a series of groundbreaking songs released in the early 2000s — including the menacing and UK chart-topping single “Clint Eastwood” off Gorillaz’s self-titled album, and “Feel Good Inc.” from their 2005 LP “Demon Days” — the band gained a substantial cult following.

Pieces like “Pink Phantom” and “Opium” on “Song Machine Episode 1” exhibit succinct minimalism and offer a streamlined musical vision while the weaker segments, like the cuts “Valley Of the Pagans” and “Aries,” have overpowering mixes with cliche and under-developed melodies.

While not necessarily boring or technically inept, songs like “Valley of the Pagans,” “The Lost Chord” and “Aries,” are bland and lack novelty as they sound too similar to 80s synth pop bands like the Talking Heads or Duran Duran. There are a few moments in the music videos that are likewise nauseatingly cliche and poorly developed. The visuals for the music videos are stylistically scattered and overstimulating, as they often employ too many animation styles.

In the music video for “Strange Timez,” the band’s traditional Cartoon-Network-like animation is paired with real, vintage film footage, comic-book-style pop art, and hyper-realistic special effects. In the chorus, lead singer 2D’s face is animated onto a photo of the moon, reminding viewers of the 1902 French cinematic classic “A Trip To The Moon.” The verses are dominated by pop-art imagery similar to Andy Warhol’s screen print “Marilyn Monroe.” Unfortunately, Gorillaz’s combined stylistic choices come off as cheap and a bit patchwork.

“Song Machine Episode 1,” however, redeems itself on a number of tracks by drawing intriguing connections between varying styles. “The Pink Phantom” brilliantly fuses two completely divergent styles, featuring iconic performer and singer Elton John and current rapper 6LACK. 6LACK’s tight stereo width, auto-tuned vocals are brilliant against the wide, operatic legato of Elton John. The instrumentals on “Pink Phantom” are loaded from the introduction, with both pianos and synths poised to fade in with the appropriate singer without forfeiting the song’s cohesion.

“Opium” is an astounding addition to the LP, beginning with a traditional deep-house instrumental, evolving into a mellow Drake-style club-rap ballad. The track features Atlanta rap duo EARTHGANG who sing and rap over the Caribbean-club groove. The cut diverts the listener’s expectations and leaves its unique footprint in the album.

The phenomenal cut “Désole,” starts with a clean guitar chord progression that sounds quite similar to rock band Coldplay’s debut album “Parachutes.” The track goes on to invest further in a marimba melody line and minimal African-style bass line, aided by the vocal contributions of Malian singer and actress Fatoumata Diawara. After “Désole,” punk-inspired track “Momentary Bliss” features rapping and monotone singing from British rapper Slow Tai.

While the relative musical and artistic success of “Song Machine Episode 1’s” tracks is spotty or of debatable quality, at the very least, it is clear that the Gorillaz members are fearless in the task of musical bending and genre mixing. The band boasts of musical shapeshifters and melodic chameleons, able to flow seamlessly among and beyond genres. As the title suggests, “Song Machine Episode 1” produces, like a jukebox in an old diner, an astounding diversity of genres. For that diversity, Gorillaz deserves a round of applause.

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