The Fall

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.

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