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Gorillaz
The Fall Luke Turner , January 7th, 2011 12:01

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Never ones to shy of a natty marketing gimmick, Gorillaz released new LP The Fall on Christmas Day, presumably making the assumption that the average family unit would be sat in a cloud of sprout farts desperately trying to avoid any real human interaction, instead plugging their new pre-VAT rise electronic gizmos into the internet in a trawl for free music to fill them with. Add to that the news that Damon Albarn &co wrote and recorded The Fall on their sparkling new iPads while on tour, and you couldn't get much more now. To my mind, there's always been something infuriatingly smug and clever clever about this side of the cartoon pop troupe. The attempt by Damon Albarn & co to be a medium, genre and demographic-hopping post-modern art project feels contrived and self conscious - after all, just because it hasn't been done before, doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Not, though, on The Fall. While it might be tempting to wish that this "tour soundtrack" was a high-concept LP attack on Mark E Smith after he fiddled with a bloke from the Clash's amplifier during Gorillaz' set at Glastonbury 2010, this is actually a record that might comfortably be said to recall one of the later works of MES: discordant, wandering, incoherent, at times brilliant and often baffling. And while we're on the subject, it's interesting to hold up 'Glitter Freeze', the MES track on Plastic Beach, in comparison to this. It was, like much of Gorillaz' output, (appropriately) two dimensional, lazy, ringing in the guest spots and ticking the genre boxes; built around a simple Fall-esque glam stomp, some synth wheeze, and a couple of slips of the dentures from Smith.

Nothing on The Fall feels so slight. In fact, it's hard not to speculate that this is what Gorillaz are actually capable of when not considering their cash cow status at their troubled label (EMI). This is the sound of a group creatively breathing, ignoring the work emails as they get on with tweaking the iPad apps into lo-fi song.

But then again, is it actually a Gorillaz record? Whereas Plastic Beach came with the defined concept and plenty of nifty drawings that a 'fictional' group and marketing campaign requires, The Fall feels like a series of sketches and sound patterns cast carefree into the electronic ether. At times, such as on the plummily counted-in 'Aspen Forest', it is not a million miles from Radiophonic-referencing work of Broadcast and their ilk. This is an un-laboured and charming evocation of landscape and the road that invokes the spirit of Grandaddy's masterpiece The Sophtware Slump in its blending of acoustica and electronics, especially on the sci-fi meanders of 'Shy-Town' and 'The Parish Of Space Dust'. 'Phoner To Arizona' seems to have used a Digital Owl app for a hooted refrain that sits over thick beats and treated vocals. It's a deft first stroke, and the ante is kept up thereafter.

'Revolving Door' begins as an Albarn-sung acoustic ditty before the digital once again takes over, 'Little Pink Plastic Bag' is a fine dubdream, while instrumental interlude 'Detroit' has a filter disco element that casts the ears back to Stardust's 'Music Sounds Better Than You'. Hell, you even get Bobby Womack in for a smoothjam on 'Bobby in Phoenix'. 'The Joplin Spider', meanwhile, is a sea shanty re-imagined by Von Sudenfed, and another great Albarn vocal turn.

See, the crucial key to The Fall's success is the plugging of the biggest of Gorillaz' aesthetic holes. It has always, to my mind, seemed impossible (at least as a sentient adult) to suspend disbelief that you're actually listening to a drawing called 2D rather than the plaintive puppy vocal of Damon Albarn. Here, though, he both stretches his range and becomes just a texture amidst the touch-screen playfulness, a charcoal smear in the sketch of the America sliding past Gorillaz' tour bus windows.

Nicholas III
Jan 9, 2011 10:19pm

Not really that interested in the Gorillaz or what they're up to but the energy and pace of this article is unbelievable. Don't know if this was written in a rush because you had more interesting things to be doing but it works. Not read a piece with such urgency in ages, let alone in a music review. Maybe writing isn't dead. I love Mick Middles, gets right in and deep but it is quite sedentary, i've fallen asleep reading Mick, which isn't a bad thing. This article inspired me. Hubert Selby writing about music in the sixties, not quite, he would have been too nice to all the shit. That's all i can compare it to. Totally original too. Can't see Bukowski or Hemmingway or the Beat stuff in there. Maybe a bit of Amis, no Welsh, etc etc. Making a living out of being a writer, whether or not you enjoy the process, must be a good thing if you've got it. Cheers. Great writing. Thank you.

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Tim Russell
Jan 10, 2011 4:23am

"To my mind, there's always been something infuriatingly smug and clever clever about this side of the cartoon pop troupe. The attempt by Damon Albarn & co to be a medium, genre and demographic-hopping post-modern art project feels contrived and self conscious" - you could say the same thing about Allbran's entire career.

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Jan 12, 2011 2:05am

In reply to Tim Russell:

Yeah, kind of acceptable. Stylo is amazing though. I bought Plastic Beach for my six year old son, sneakily getting Stylo. I'd rather my kids listened to a kind of proper band that gave a shit even if i don't like them that much than listening to made up, old boys pushing it rubbish. My seven year old is into Cole Porter and Billie and Basie and my older kid is into White Stripes and Chile Peppers, macho fucking rubbish. My Mp3 player is fixed, i'm going to cut about listening to BMX Bandits and Captain America. Maybe a bit of MC 900 FT Jesus. Some people like music and some people pretend they do. Not sure what side i'm on yet. I can see that not sleeping plays a role in my love of Chapterhouse.

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Cincyjim
Jan 29, 2011 4:48pm

Not as good as the first two. And by some distance trailing the good the bad and the queen

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